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mazingerz88's avatar

What would our world be like without sickness?

Asked by mazingerz88 (25284points) September 6th, 2012

I just saw a newspaper headline about keys in our DNA that make us sick. Made me wonder as to the kind of life and civilization we are going to have if someday we engineer human DNA taking away these “keys”.

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21 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Well, the great cats would have to cull the herd by killing and eating healthy animals, as one example. The crows and vultures would have far less carrion to feed off. They might have to go to McDonald’s to find equivalent food sources.

Engineering perfect health would equate to eliminating death. Probably won’t happen.

rojo's avatar

Uncomfortably overcrowded.

wonderingwhy's avatar

There are a ton of social issues that need to be worked out first. Resources, ideological acceptance, environmental concerns, law, punishment, population growth, governance, outlook, etc. etc. etc. If those aren’t at least solved in framework prior to unleashing what amounts to non-violent immortality on humanity I think we’re in for some very impoverished and violent times.

Of course if we could manage to work together, I think it could lead to a new golden age unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Just the sudden influx of resources repurposed from medical alone, if focused on improving other basic aspects of life, could be a phenomenal boon for the humanity.

ucme's avatar


Coloma's avatar

Disease and sickness are part of the natural order of life. To keep all life populations in check. Since we have already eliminated some of the worst scourges that claimed billions of lives over the centuries, typhoid, smallpox, polio, tuberculosis, etc. etc. to completely eliminate all illness would wreak havoc on our planet. As it is, we are already living decades longer than we were even 100 years ago. At this rate, even if the planet attained zero population growth for the next 100 years we would still be living on a grossly overpopulated planet.

Personally I think medicine has gone too far. Everything is SUPPOSED to die, at some point or another. I think it is selfish, arrogant and egotistical to even want to eliminate all death and disease. There is absolutely NO reason for a human to live 120 years, how self absorbed can you be?

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

There would be constant total war over resources due to over population for awhile, then when the population is reduced (if not eliminated completely), possibly by chemical and nuclear holocaust, there would be major environmental problems, lack of infrastructure, knowledge, etc., your basic post apocalypse world. If any humans were left, they would adapt eventually and it would start all over again and probably end the same way.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@mazingerz88 Can you give us a link to the article? I’d like to read it to see what this fix addresses. I’m guessing it fixes what ails us now, but life is in a constant flux and new things will come along to make us sick so it’s always a battle.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it would be fantastic. I can’t see anything positive about illness.

mazingerz88's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I knew I should have picked that free Express paper on the train! Can’t find a link now but going home later I have a good chance of seeing another copy. Stay tuned.

Here is the headline I saw. Useless I know. Lol.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@mazingerz88 Thanks. I’ll look around too.

wundayatta's avatar

The story is about junk DNA. It got a lot of coverage, so if you google “junk dna” you’ll find a lot. Pick your poison.

In any case, the story is about the “junk dna” and they have discovered that it switches bits of DNA on and off. We know that our DNA contains instructions about what our bodies should do under a variety of conditions. This junk dna sits there monitoring environmental conditions, and when the conditions are “right,” it switches on the relevant DNA. My favorite example is about strong muscles. If we don’t exercise, our muscles grow weak. But if we go to the gym and lift weights, the junk dna detects the stress, and switches on the DNA that enables our muscles to build new material.

They say we need to actually tear muscle fibre in order to stimulate new growth. So what is happening is this junk dna is monitoring muscles for torn fiber. If there is too much of it, it switches on the muscle growing function.

My favorite condition (said ironically) is bipolar disorder. They say that bipolar is in the dna, but that it requires certain stressors in the environment before the dna switches on the set of behaviors that we call bipolar disorder. It causes a change in brain chemistry that leads to things like a reduced need for sleep, and a quickened thinking ability and a willingness to take risks.

Now you can imagine an environment where those traits would be valuable. If we are in danger and we need some smart solutions quickly, those traits would be useful. If only we could turn them on or keep them off at will, we could target them more effectively. Of course, using those traits has consequences. You end up depressed and suicidal. Basically, you have maybe three to six months to get something done, and then you have to wait out a year or more of depression that you may or may not survive. It’s a huge cost for a nebulous benefit.

Well, all disease responses are like that. They monitor the environment for certain cues, which probably are like counters of a sort: how often do we get muscle stress, or how many white blood cells are running around, or how many immune triggerings do we see at the skin (mosquito bites), and when they pass a threshold, they trigger a response.

Would knowing precisely what stretches of DNA watch for which environmental stimuli and cause which precise responses help us eliminate disease?

No. Pure and simple, the premise of this question is a red herring. It can’t happen. It is a misunderstanding of the science and the mechanisms of the body.

First of all, mosquitoes probably aren’t going away. So you could switch off our defense response, but that wouldn’t help. Similarly, the need to build muscles won’t go away.

But let’s look at bipolar. Let’s look at cystic fibrosis. Let’s look at sickle cell anemia. These are bad things, right?

Not so fast, buster! These are all adaptations to certain conditions in the environment. If we were to eliminate the adaptation, we wouldn’t be able to respond to certain changes in the environment, and potentially, we’d all die out. Or there could be large die-offs because we removed adaptations we thought we didn’t need.

Potentially we could learn to turn these adaptations on in a smarter way. Or perhaps we could learn to enhance them so they would be more effectively. Maybe we could learn to turn on brilliance in all people at will. We could modify our bodies with the bipolar gene, thus enabling faster, more creative thinking, and we could turn it on at certain points in time, or at all times, if people weren’t afraid of burning out.

My feeling is that there is an awful long way to go before we begin to fully understand what all the dna does. There is an even longer way to go before we learn how to manipulate it for our own good, and an even further way to go before we can manipulate it precisely enough to make it do what we want.

With mental illness, there is one mutation that appears on an allele for thirteen different disorders. There are, in addition, uncounted other mutations associated with each disorder. It’s interesting that they share one mutation in common, because that opens the possibility that they are all related genetically. It might mean that mental illness is a broad category and the expression of the illness might happen based on other mutations and environmental triggers.

But it could be so complex, and the same thing could happen under so many different conditions—genes and environment—that we may never be able to sort it out. In fact, it probably changes all the time, from one generation to the next. It may not be predictable. Which means, it won’t allow us to defend ourselves against diseases as effectively as we imagine we might, and we might never get rid of sickness.

I’m not sure it is desirable to rid ourselves of sickness. New sicknesses are being developed all the time, anyway. In fact, I don’t think humankind will rid itself of sickness. Certainly not in my life time. We may be able to use our DNA in a more targeted way, but maybe for a small number of conditions, we will be able to effectively target them. But we will never be able to target all diseases and sicknesses in a specific enough way to be able to say we truly know what we are doing.

YARNLADY's avatar

I think we would all be dead. Sickness is what happens when our body is attacked by an intruder and our defenses fight it off.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Sickness is arguably nature’s way of balancing out the population (in some jurisdictions) I think illness is simply a result of human weakness and poor susceptibility.

What the world would be like without sickness is essentially war over scarce resources, mental crisis, obsolescence in most medical fields, overpopulation and many more issues, it would cause a great shift in the order of life but this is not to say it’s necessarily a “bad” thing.

Well assuming we’re speaking in future terms of modern civilization it could be an issue but if we were engineer our DNA then it could be of great benefit should we adapt socially and economically to the phenomena.

I wouldn’t say it wuld be wise, but I feel it would be manageable, mainly for those who value life (I.e billionaires, celebrities etc.) Not so much for the “other” population.

flutherother's avatar

We are already half way there because of antibiotics, hygiene and proper nourishment.

tacres's avatar

As fast as viruses can change my money is on the superbugs! It seems just as we oh so smart humans come close to eradicating one thing another nasty little human munching critter rears its little head. Nature knows her stuff. Contary to popular belief we ain’t the top of the food chain. And that is a good thing. @Coloma you are right on. I hate to see the suffering in the world but that is LIFE. It grows us &humbles us & teaches us lessons we may not have learned otherwise. Besides even if all forms of sickness were eradicatd you would still have all those injuries from fighting to the death of very limited resources!

Coloma's avatar

@tacres Excellent point! Sooo, we all live to be as old as Noah, what 930 years or something?
Great, so we can fight to the death over the last handful of Monsanto genetically engineered potatoes with built in systemic pesticides? lol
If we were meant to live that long we would have been born a freaking Redwood tree! haha

tacres's avatar

Yes @Coloma & we could laugh at our saintly blood donating friends !

Coloma's avatar

^ Hah…touche!

Coloma's avatar

At least Redwood trees create oxygen, we just create fake food and war. lol

tacres's avatar

Snort. How true. I would love to be a redwood. I wood finally be tall!

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