We humans have been thwarting evolution and changing our own genomes and those of other species for as long as we've been able to think.

Evolutionary biologist Michael Nachman offers the example of the impacted wisdom tooth. Once upon a time, before dentistry and before antibiotics, people died from them.

As a consequence, people prone to tooth infection and their dentally deficient genes were weeded from the gene pool. Natural selection led to populations with healthier teeth.

Advances in knowledge and treatment made it possible for people with bad teeth to survive and to breed. The consequence: more people with bad teeth.

We can deal with that, knowing what we now know about dental hygiene and treatment.

Medical science and public health are bigger miracles than we usually acknowledge. They enable us to overcome our advances.

We live longer, healthier lives, despite the fact that we've made it possible to retain genetic tendencies toward disease and have introduced an array of environmental threats to health.

We've done the same with our pets - those gorgeous purebred dogs with the chronically weak hips, for example.

We've also bred bigger bulls and faster horses, tastier pigs, juicier tomatoes, bigger ears of corn.

We are in an era when inducing such changes grows easier by the day, an era when we are beginning to question whether we should do such things just because we can.

The scientists who research genomics deal with these questions on a continual basis, and Dean Joaquin Ruiz of the University of Arizona College of Science expects lively discussion Wednesday when the five speakers in his college's "Genomics Now" lecture series reconvene for a session titled "Genomics Tomorrow."

"One of the reasons we decided to set up a panel meeting was because those issues were vigorously being debated by the speakers as we structured the series," Ruiz said.

One subject he expects to get attention is the prediction at the first talk by Dr. Fernando Martinez, director of the UA's Bio5 Research Center, that the structure of each person's genome will be provided at birth in the near future.

"It raises all sorts of privacy issues," said Ruiz. Should a potential employer know, for instance, that an applicant is genetically disposed to a disease that could cause early death and increases in health-care costs?

The issue of genetically modified foods is certain to come up, especially in regards to plant genomics researcher Rod Wing, who has an ambitious plan to trigger a second "green revolution" by mapping and functionally sequencing the genomes of wild rices around the world.

In addition to Martinez, Wing and Nachman, panelists include Michael Worobey, whose genetic detective work helped uncover paths traveled by HIV and influenza viruses; and Dr. Donata Vercelli, who investigates how the evolving science of epigenetics can explain how identical genes function differently.

They will be joined by Dr. Tom Grogan, a medical ethicist, who founded Ventana Medical Systems.

Questions can be submitted in advance at:


• What: Final "Genomics Now," UA College of Science lecture series: Genomics Tomorrow - A discussion of mankind's role and responsibilities in choosing to "modify" nature, moderated by UA Dean of Science Joaquin Ruiz.

• When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.

• Where: Centennial Hall, 1020 W. University Blvd.

• Cost: Free.

• Parking: Tyndall Avenue Garage is most convenient. A fee is charged. Note: The intersection of North Park Avenue and East University Boulevard is closed for streetcar construction. Take North Euclid Avenue to the East Fourth Street entrance to the garage.

• Information: 520-621-4090 or cos.arizona.edu/connections/genomics-now

UASci@email.arizona.edu Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.