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The Gene

An Intimate History

Siddhartha Mukherjee

I was reflecting on my painful shortness of breath and chest tightness on freezing days back in Hanoi almost a decade ago while studying this book. I was born with asthma (typically known for narrow airway) as a mindless follower of the heredity law. My grandpa passed away with it. My dad has it. And I am living with it. In the winter, we always keep a tiny bottle of nasal spray in our pocket, ready for any breathing difficulties as a little weapon my mom learned to know much about. She learned after a thousand hours of staying awake with me through nights when I gave up sleeping horizontally. I quickly ran out of energy in one time, trying to pump air into the hungry lungs, promptly sat up like a mad man suffocated under deep water.


Do I like asthma? Absolutely, no—I would answer bluntly.


Do I feel resentful born with asthma?

Do I want to cure this genetic disease?

Should fetuses diagnose with genetic diseases (Down-syndrome, Schizophrenia, Leukemia, people name it all) have the right to be free from a painful life?

Should doctors intervene and edit the code of life (the Gene) that we all live running on it?

These are not easy to answer the question, especially when the advancement of technology in the past century has allowed us to realize that editing and cloning gene is no longer a dream.

Asthma is terrible, and I hate it when it hits me hard. But I know people who never find end-of-the tunnel light just to align with their parents and obey the hereditary law. They are fervent supporters of positive eugenics (a popular ideology that we can actively control the genetic quality of our population). It is not disastrous Nazism, a tragedy full of anger, prejudice, jealousy, and madness. It is a dream of a world without suffering. It is possible eugenics. As a soldier in the army against heredity diseases, I deeply understand the push for a looser boundary on biotechnology.


Altering the defective genes with better ones become possible now, and I see it running despite some high fences of morality and politics. It is not a straightforward mathematical formula as I learn along. Catastrophes might happen. The question remains the one no one dares to answer as a representative of our species: “To where we are willing to go” as we wander deeper into the land of unknown.


I think people should be aware of what we have first before seeking an answer to the question.

Winter 2020

November 1, 2020 at 3:00:00 PM


science, history, non-fiction


The Gene
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