Gene Expression

A transracial identity

i-191c6bf437c0c95a7ff9e2cb83b757ea-michael-jackson-neverland.jpg

Recently I’ve been having an on-and-off discussion with a friend about the bioethical implications of neo-eugenics. I brought up one particular issue as a thought experiment: how about selective abortion of dark-skinned fetuses among South Asians? The light and dark variants of SLC24A5 segregate within the South Asian population at high frequencies, the light variant as high as 85-90% in the northwest decreasing in frequency and approaching 50% in the far south an east. SLC24A5 explains about 1/3 of the South Asian skin color variation, just as it explains 1/3 of the difference between Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans. It has a big effect. If you have two parents who are heterozygous on SLC24A5, a very common occurrence in the south an east of the subcontinent, there is a 25% chance of the “best” and “worst” combinations in any given offspring. Even with the primitive neo-eugenic methods we have today I think it is not implausible that some wealthy wheatish South Asians would start screening based on skin color, especially for females (the markers around HER2-OCA2 are even more informative, but I don’t believe that Europeans as negative toward brown-eyed individuals as South Asians are toward dark-skinned).

But medical technology moves fast. Why go through the expense of pre-implantation screening and in vitro fertilization if one could make cosmetic changes after birth? There’s already a huge market for skin-lightening cremes the world over, as well as hair dyes. Noses can be reshaped, and hair straightened out. How far are we from the science of Black No More? Today we have transgendered individuals whose sexual identity doesn’t fit into the conventional boxes. How about transracial individuals? What if in the near future colored people could turn themselves white through affordable cosmetic surgery?

This all begs the question in regards to costs. I’d be curious as to the opinion with anyone who knows the field well enough to project costs 10-20 years from now.

Comments

  1. #1 bioIgnoramus
    February 5, 2009

    “I don’t believe that Europeans as negative toward brown-eyed individuals as South Asians are toward dark-skinned”: this may be very gormless of me, but do you have an opinion as to why South Asians are so negative about dark-skin?

  2. #2 genemachine
    February 5, 2009

    “Why go through the expense of pre-implantation screening and in vitro fertilization if one could make cosmetic changes after birth?” – it’s better to be born beautiful than to have the expense of cosmentics/surgery and have less beautiful children.

    The costs of superficial PGD could be reduced to zero if the selection for the superficial traits could be “piggybacked” on a more medical selection. Maybe two embryos are free of a cancer gene and one of those has a “nice teeth” gene. Costs for this are less than zero if future dentistry is considered.

    On the skin colour thing, I’m waiting for the day that Australians make the opposite choice for UV protection. I wonder if superficially black Australians would influence the fashion in SE Asia.

  3. #3 Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    February 5, 2009

    I wonder if this could have other selective effects, besides just (for light) skin color. Perhaps it might select for other forms of Neoteny effects. Although if your selecting just for the light variant of SLC24A5 directly, then maybe not.

  4. #4 razib
    February 5, 2009

    but do you have an opinion as to why South Asians are so negative about dark-skin?

    they think it’s really ugly.

  5. #5 Caledonian
    February 5, 2009

    Pale skin on women may indicate high status (they stay indoors and don’t work in the sun) in a sort of semi-arbitrary cultural signal, or there may be more subtle reasons.

    It’s been discussed here before, I believe, without any compelling conclusions arising.

  6. #6 razib
    February 5, 2009

    Pale skin on women may indicate high status (they stay indoors and don’t work in the sun) in a sort of semi-arbitrary cultural signal, or there may be more subtle reasons.

    being born in a typical south asian family as a woman where you are darker-skinned than expected is like being fat from the age of 3-4. there are some issues with being male and dark-skinned as well, but i do not believe they are equivalent. there would be an enormous benefit to being an AA vs. GG on that locus in terms of quality of life in regards to how other humans treat you and value you.

  7. #7 Mark
    February 5, 2009

    Excuse my ignorance, but is it possible that you could one day use germ line engineering to give your kids a certain eye or hair color? I wouldn’t abort a fetus for not having the right color eyes, but if I could give my child blue or green eyes for an extra fee I’d seriously consider it.

    They’re pretty. And as a gay man, I’m going to have to do in vitro anyway…

  8. #8 razib
    February 5, 2009

    germline stuff is further down the pipe. but since the architecture of eye color is something know to a high degree of confidence that would make the task easier.

  9. #9 Caledonian
    February 6, 2009

    “being born in a typical south asian family as a woman where you are darker-skinned than expected is like being fat from the age of 3-4″

    That sounds plausible. The stigma against fat is at least partially socially created, though, as it was once considered attractive and desirable. And it’s hard to determine precisely how these sorts of conventions arise.

    The temptation to view ubiquitous social constructs as universals is so easy for me to fall into…

  10. #10 d
    October 4, 2009

    I understand possible reasons for the trend to go “whiter” (a desire to be a part of the preceived “better” or more dominant race) but what about “whiter” people wanting to go “darker?”

    Transgenderism is not comprised mostly of people wanting to change from sub sex to dom sex. If that were the reality, most transgendered cases would be female to male (i would almost argue that the reality is actually opposite of that: there are more male to female trans) So we can’t really compare the two in that sense.

    My question is… are there people who are born into the world as one race, but have always felt a natural affinity to another race, despite that races political and social standings?

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.