Of mice and men and intelligence genes

Marta Russell ap888 at SPAMlafn.org
Sat Sep 4 11:51:45 MDT 1999

Philip L Ferguson wrote:

> Debate and discussion is encouraged on these commentaries. If you would
> like to discuss further the ideas in this commentary, go to:
> http://www.informinc.co.uk/interaction$forum/LMC

LM Commentary:

Of mice and men

Researchers may have used genetics to improve the memory of mice, but it is
nonsense to talk of an 'intelligence gene', argues Dr Stuart
Derbyshiresnip..................Just heard today that Astra's (a 26 year old
woman with Down Syndrome)
commentary of the abortion about the Down Syndrome babies has been
accepted for broadcast on the CBC and thus will be heard by tens of thousands
of Canadians.  The CBC thought the piece powerful and provocative AND noted
that this will probably be the first 'editorial comment' done on any national
radio in the world done by a mentally retarded woman.  For those who would
like to read or re-read the piece here it follows ... by the way she is
working on
a piece about the 'smart gene' which has been isolated ... here is a line from
editorial ... "Why don't scientists look for the genes that make people kinder

and more compassionate?  It seems like they only want strong, smart, mean
people.  If the doctors have it their way ... the meek won't inherit the earth
or inhabit it either."

Commentary by Astra Milberg

The headline of the newspaper says, "Downs Syndrome Test Now Safer." What it
means is that there is a new test. This test will tell women who are pregnant
their child has Down Syndrome earlier than the tests they do now. I know what
this means. It means that women can abort babies with Down Syndrome before
they really even feel they are pregnant. When I read this, I thought to
"Oh, Boy! Here we go again."

I am a 26 year old woman with Down Syndrome. I speak two languages. I
attended college and completed many courses right along with typical
students. I started with English Grammar, it was a course for people who had
English as a Second Language. Then I took courses in Psychology and
Understanding Behaviour. Because I do volunteer work with deaf children I
also took courses in Sign Language and Deaf Culture.

Some people think that if you have a disability you can’t do anything.
my psychology class I learned about prejudice. This means that when someone
is a little different there will be those who won’t be able to see
but difference. I hear people say that it’s a tragedy to have Down
Syndrome or other disabilities ... but I laugh more than I cry. In fact I like
make other people laugh. I live a normal life. I have had boyfriends ... and
boyfriend troubles. I have fun sometimes and get lonely at others. I like to
other people and I like to be taken care of sometimes myself.

Doctors who tell women that their baby might have Downs Syndrome need to
meet folks like me. I think the test is good because then the mom can learn
the baby is special, find people to support her and her baby and then get on
with loving the baby. The way things are going, there might be a day when
there will be no more people with Down Syndrome. This scares me and makes
me sad. I love my life. I am glad to be here.

The headline said, "Downs Syndrome Test Now Safer" and with that the world
got a little more dangerous for people like me.

> Teams of researchers from Princeton University, New Jersey, and another
> from the University of Tokyo have discovered improved memory and learning
> ability in two strains of genetically modified mice. The results have
> caused much excitement, with some commentators talking about an
> 'intelligence gene' - raising the possibility of enhancing the normal
> intelligence of 'other mammals', including humans.
> But while this work is undoubtedly a step towards enhancement of some of
> the basic information-processing capacities that all mammals share, it is
> still a long stretch from these studies to a facilitation of human memory,
> let alone intelligence.
> Memory in humans and all other mammals is intricately tied in with a piece
> of the brain called the hippocampus. If you were to be so unlucky as to
> lose your hippocampus on both sides of your brain, you would never again be
> able to place an event into long-term memory. Memories never develop beyond
> the moment of hippocampal destruction and the patient forever lives in the
> past and immediate present.
> Knowing this important site for memory, researchers have turned their
> attention towards the mechanisms of the hippocampus. This is what the
> current studies investigated. It is known that information is shuffled
> around and maintained inside the hippocampus dependent upon the properties
> of receptors (sites at which actions take place) and their interaction with
> neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow communication between receptor
> sites). The important receptor is NMDA and the important neurotransmitter
> is glutamate. When NMDA binds to glutamate a current is evoked which opens
> a channel allowing calcium ions to enter the cell. This is the magical
> moment when the cells of the hippocampus talk in harmony and strengthen
> their connections, known technically as long-term potentiation (LTP) and
> more commonly as the beginning of memory. The researchers in Tokyo hoped to
> improve the memory of mice through the increase of an NMDA subtype that has
> an extended LTP - while the researchers at Princeton deleted the genetic
> code for a non-NMDA hippocampal receptor that inhibits LTP, thereby
> inadvertently extending overall LTP.
> Both groups demonstrated improved memory in their transgenic strains
> through a standard behavioural test. The mice were released into a shallow
> pool of water and swam around until stumbling across a hidden platform and
> standing on it. This was done on multiple occasions and the time taken to
> reach the platform was recorded. All the mice reached the platform more
> quickly on later trials, indicating learning. The transgenic mice, however,
> performed better than the normal mice, showing further improved learning
> due to the genetic manipulation.
> So will we be able to create humans with super memories? Perhaps. I have no
> doubt that humans and mice share important properties relating to the
> hippocampus and its basic function. But even so, memory in mice and memory
> in humans are far removed. Simple associative learning - discovering that A
> follows B, etc - is an aspect of memory and, if you are a mouse surviving
> from one moment to the next, it might be terrific to have your associative
> learning enhanced. But humans do not survive in this manner - we have
> developed ourselves and our society and can operate on a more general,
> abstract level. Being able to understand connections between A and B might
> be a prerequisite for abstract memories but that does not mean a better
> recognition of concrete relationships will improve abstract memory. It
> might even be detrimental. Humans use memory in a transformative manner to
> go beyond simple relationships and to develop abstract connections.
> The ability to draw abstract relationships and pursue meaningful goals is
> the hallmark of human intelligence that is sorely lacking in the mouse
> world - even in the newly created super mouse world. In the mouse, memory
> is merely an extension of their basic biological function with zero
> intelligent content. Our intelligence remains under the influence of basic
> information-processing skills (as evidenced by its severe compromising when
> processing is lost to dementia), but intelligence is more than the simple
> additive effects of processing environmental associations. For humans,
> memory is not a natural extension of biology but is a part of the
> transformation and interweaving of innate biological processes into higher
> intelligent function.
> The transformation of our biological information-processing capacity, which
> we share with mice, takes place in the sociocultural world, which we do not
> share with mice. During development, formal schooling and other cultural
> interventions, the subordination of biological instinct to volitional
> control is nurtured and encouraged. Memory ceases to be slavishly dictated
> by internal and external events and becomes a tool that can be used in the
> pursuit of reasoned goals. A genetic and neural influence can remain, but
> the cause of intelligence lies outside of genetics and pharmacology.
> Dr Stuart Derbyshire is head of neuro-imaging at the Neuroenteric Disease
> Program, University of California in Los Angeles

Marta Russell
Los Angeles, CA
Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract

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