Северинов: нас с украинцами генетически не различить | Эволюция, биохакинг и санкции ENG SUB
Can we say from the point of view of biology and genetics that Russians and Ukrainians are one people? How alike are we? So much that we are genetically indistinguishable. Konstantin Severinov is a molecular biology specialist, Professor and head of labs at universities in Russia and the U.S.A. He was member of the team that launched Scoltech. He has over 200 scientific publications. Hello! Thank you for your time.
Could you tell me briefly about Russian science sphere now? How much did everything change since February, 24? It’s hard to tell in general, as Russian science, though small in comparison to the whole world, is a big sphere, in Russian biology, the expected complications occurred, as the delivery of reagents has become a challenge, a number of devices have become unavailable to us, and the available ones that we have here will be difficult to maintain or repair, it may even become impossible. That's how it is in terms of equipment. In terms of people... well, in my inner circle, a lot of people, I'd say, about 20%, have gone abroad. This is not necessarily a representation of all of Russian science, as those people who work with me, they are, by definition, at the top of the Russian science “food pyramid”, thus well integrated into the world science, they had the opportunity to leave, to get a professional job somewhere else.
So far, everything is where it was, I think that, if there’re any consequences, their effect will be a little delayed but, maybe, long—lasting. — The sanctions that we face now... In terms of biology, will they somehow affect the future? — Given how small Russian biology is, it’s very important for us to be able to communicate with the outside world, with countries that are in a better position, i. e. the countries of Western Europe, the United States, China and Japan, to some extent. It's difficult now to communicate with them, difficult, especially because of the sanctions. For example,
it's hard for a Russian scientist to go to a conference now, because, most likely, they won't get a visa, like with the US visa, there's nowhere you could go to get it. it's difficult to pay the conferences entry and participation fees, and it's hard to travel there. As a result, we become more and more separated from all the things that are going on in the oustide world. — When it comes to areas important to the state, for example, propaganda or the delivery of some goods, the state tries to find some way around the sanctions. Is the state doing anything now to help the Russian science bypass the sanctions and continue the work? In general, does the state help to deal with the problems that everyone faces now, in terms of sanctions? — Well, of course they are taking some action. Another question is how effective and reasonable these actions are.
But, again, no one knows what's best to do. One of the actions that the Ministry of Education and Science and, I think, the Russian Science Foundation have taken is a moratorium on requirements for publications in scientific journals reporting on the results of grants at the end of the year. The measure is actually controversial, because if you do not publish your works in international journals, peer—reviewed ones, you can get into a situation where you say, "I have done some researches, the results are excellent, I swear, but they haven't been published anywhere," and who can prove that your research is really good, but yourself? Basically, this encourages substandard scientific research. On the other hand, for the vast majority of Russian scientists it's hard to get published in international journals now, particularly because these publications require some kind of payment to make the article available to all scientists and the whole world, in fact. We are talking about several thousand dollars per article, per unit of printed matter. An article is not a set of paper, it's a finished product that you want to share with the world.
It could be years of work, it could be some graduate's thesis. And you want others to read your work as well, to get praise or, vice a versa, receive criticism, as this way a new direction in science can emerge, etc. So, for a scientist from some provincial university or institute, it is difficult to make such a publication in a Western scientific journal, as you won't be able to transfer the money. Previously, it was possible to pay your own money and make it up to yourself later, now with Russian roubles, and now you can’t do this, thus, there are problems.
In 2010s there was a similar situation, but not in connection with sanctions, but simply because Russian scientists had no money, and you could write a tearful note to the publisher, like, "We are so poor and unfortunate, publish our research for free." It worked. Now, obviously, the attitude is different, and you can't do that anymore. — Is the West taking any steps to stay — Is the West taking any steps to stay in contact with Russian scientists? Are there any attempts to facilitate relocation, offer special conditions? Do they use the opportunity? — To use the opportunity, you need finances. I'm not aware of any special programs that would help Russian scientists financially to go and settle down somewhere. There was some sensational statement from Boris Johnson, who then went silent. There was Biden's statement that they would make it easier to get an H1 visa, but this has nothing to do with reality.
As it all goes, there're no special programs for Russian scientists. There are special programs for Ukrainian scientists that help them go to Israel, France and some other countries in an emergency, get a scholarship and a place in some laboratory. From a professional point of view, it's not quite clear what this means, you will escape from the chaos that reigns there now, but you are unlikely to do your own research. — Are Russian scientists even in demand in the world right now? Because there is a feeling that Soviet education and Russian and Soviet science are number one in the world, and our specialists are in great demand, and our brains are the most wonderful.
Feels like there should be some battle going on for our brainpower. So, how high is the demand for it, and how valuable is Russian biology to the world? — How important is Russian architecture to the world? You're an architect by first degree, aren't you? — Russian, well, contemporary architecture, is rather weak, with a few exceptions, there are a few architects, but on the whole Russian architecture is rather weak. — Let's replace the word "architecture" with "science" and you'll get exactly the same thing you said. On the whole the situation is the same. Of course there are talented people.
Overall, Russian science in general, in quantitative terms, in terms of people, money and scientific results... I am talking about printed matter, without negative connotations, according to the plan that Vladimir Putin put forward when he was elected president in 2011—2012, we had to capture 2% of the world market of publications. We came close to that, but with our 2% being compared to 34% from the US and the same amount from China, the rest split between Europe, Canada and Australia...
Well, we are not on the top positions. On the other hand, Russian science, of course, is known to everyone. In general, there is a legend of Russian—Soviet science, and there are a large number of members of the Russian scientific community who left in the early 1990s to become famous scientists, it's true. This does not change the fact that of those who left in the 90s, a lot of people have decided to leave the science field and are doing something else, which is not bad either.
It's not that anyone really needs anything from us there, and in biology especially. — If things continue to develop the way they are now, I mean sanctions and isolation, what does the future hold for Russian science in the long run? — It won't go anywhere. It can't be that it simply stops to exist. It will probably be in the same state. We should get that we look at ourselves and enjoy it, we have those entertaining ideas about the great Soviet science. The question of how great it is is also quite controversial. We like to think that it was.
I caught Soviet science in its late stage, in the late 80s. Things weren't going very well in the biology field. Although there were seome truly outstanding scientists. So in my opinion women give birth, with men's help, children grow up and some children want to study architecture, some want to study science. And no matter what you tell them, they're still going to do it.
They will go to the Faculty of Biology at Moscow State University and they will be taught there, and some of them will achieve great success, simply because it's a matter of luck, performance, and the desire to do it. It's an uncontrollable process, it's natural. Someone does what they like because they don't want to work as a bus driver, which is also a good job.
— Let's about genetics... — Let's go! — Where is it placed in Russia now, how interested is the state in this field? What tasks does the government set for genetics? — My heart skipped a beat as, while you were asking this question, your image froze and stopped moving on the screen. The government has set some big tasks for genetics, because the past decade was marked marked by a revolution in genetics, if you will, although I would simply call it life science. Let's move away from specific terms and call it life sciences.
For me, gnetics, biochemistry, molecular biology molecular genetics, chemical biology, and others — they are all one field, they all study living things. In the last decade, there has been a revolution, we have learned how to change genomes to modify them the way we want with the genetic scissors method, CRISPR—Cas9. This method promises a breakthrough not only in basic science, but also in agriculture, livestock and medicine, and everyone in the world is rushing to develop it.
Russia initially had a weak position in this field, and it became clear that something had to be done. In 2019, a federal scientific and technical program for development of genetic technologies in Russia was adopted. It was planned to last until 2027, but now it's been extended until 2030. About a couple of billion dollars has been allocated to it, I think, and some actions are being taken, initially designed to get to know this miracle and learn how to do gene editing. Whether this is going well is another question, but in general there are serious attempts to develop this field both at the level of education and at the level of science. Now, however, it's becoming more of an applied science, which is bad.
At the same time, they are trying to invite Rosneft to a technology partnership, to create a powerful genomic center, to create a genetic database of Russian genomes, which will improve the diagnosis of many diseases with a genetic nature and, perhaps, move towards curing them. — You are saying such scary things now. Usually propagandists scare, they say, "Look, they're changing genes there, collecting something!" On a practical level, apart from diagnosing, what else can genetics give us in the foreseeable future? What breakthroughs and discoveries can we expect? — It's a great mystery, because the beauty of doing my, our science we don't have very long—term plans. We're talking now, and someone is sitting in the lab and may accidentally or intentionally make a discovery that will change the vector of science for 10 years to come. You sound a little bit like a government official who determines where to move, how to allocate finances there, and get from point A to point B. So, I love doing this science, because we do not know where we will be tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, a year from now.
Experience shows that we will definitely move forward, and these discoveries will determine the future of medicine, the quality of medical care, and the quality of the food that you and I consume. Most importantly, it's going to be interesting, so we don't know. If someone tells you they know, they're lying. — Wonderful. It's interesting, so we'll... We'll be keeping up to date. In the context of conflicts in particular, Russia is often accused its people having have an imperial consciousness, that we can't forget about some imperial past, that we try to influence some countries that are now independent.
Is this pure psychology or can genetics reveal some kind of causes for this kind of behavior, for the so—called "imperial consciousness"? — I am certain that it is not. We need to understand the way science works. We need to agree on terminology, otherwise we can say whatever we want. We can say that the Russians, for example, are governed by little green men...
Well, it's a wrong thing to say... someone from outer space, the God almighty, whatever. Now, to answer your question.
Genetics is the science of the most interesting thing, it's about sex and inheritance. So, we need to take some number of Russian people, define, measure their "imperialness", there should be a special device to measure this "imperialness". preferably quantitative, but it can also be a simple yes/no. Then we will cross people with and without imperialness, produce offspring, and see how it maintains its imperialness.
Preferably under the same conditions, but understandably they will be different. Such experiences are not the peas with which Mendel worked, and it is impossible to answer this kind of question. On the other hand, we as a Sociocultural community there is such a notion that the Russian people are not necessarily Russians.
Probably many have cultural elements of imperialness in them, while not being very close to each other genetically or ethnically. We can be Buryats, Tuvans, Russians, Jews, and still have imperialness or not. The short answer is no. There can be no such thing. Even schizophrenia, which is much better defined than imperialness, does not yet have a clear genetic basis. At least, it is unknown.
— Okay. If we talk, for example, about human behavior, aggression or violence, is it determined by genes or nurture? — It's such a question, nature vs. nurture. Let's not talk about aggression—let's talk about intelligence. — Let's do it. — Alright. The answer is no either,
because it's not at all clear how to measure all these things. Well, really, because it all depends very much on the conditions, right? On the social conditions you're in. And, again, to prove that there's some genetic background, you have to demonstrate that you have some, for example, behavior associated in generations in connection with some genetic trait, conditionally speaking, a state of DNA. Even if you prove it, you can't prove that there is cause and effect.
It might just be an association. So I would suggest that you don't complicate it. This is, you know, a big problem of science popularizers, the term genes, like atoms, got into the consciousness in the public consciousness, and now people are using these terms with absolutely no understanding of what they're talking about. You probably don't understand about genes either. — Well, I think I understand enough.
— Or not at all, I suspect. It's better not to even go into detail. No, no and no. There are simple genetic things like monogenic genetic diseases.
There are blood diseases like thalassemia or hemophilia, there's cystic fibrosis. There are a lot of other interesting diseases, there are actually about 10,000 of them. They're definitely determined by genes, which is if you got a defective copy of a gene from your dad and from your mom, that you're definitely going to be sick. That's a 100 percent chance. It's pretty clear.
But these are simple monogenic conditions, mendelian after Gregor Mendel, the co—founder of modern genetics. Anything more complicated is a bit evil. — If we compare different people, can we say from the point of view of biology and genetics that Russians and Ukrainians are one people? How alike are we? So much that we are genetically indistinguishable. Besides, what is a Russian? I recently read on the Internet that someone quotes me and says I'm a publich enemy because I said that the Russian genome does not exist. I, thus, allegedly deny the whole idea of Russian nationality. But this, again, is because people don't understand what a genome is, a nation.
Obviously, there are traits, genetically predetermined, that determine our appearance. For example, if we talk about a large community, like races, let's say Asian, Negroid and Caucasian, we can tell them from each other, we can see that they are different, and we can find some genetic causes, not just one, there are many that cause that difference. We can see what is inherited. There are people that came about relatively recently and, for example, these are some island populations, like the Japanese. They're all pretty close to each other, and there's no admixture of outside genes.
With Russians, this is obviously not the case. here is nothing good or bad about it, it has no effect on how we identify ourselves, how we feel, culturally we perceive ourselves, how we speak. I can't imagine it being possible to identify an ideal genome of the Russian. Likewise, there is no American genome. To tell apart the Russians from the Ukrainians, who separated from each other...
Well, in Kievan Rus' we were probably all together, there was both Kiev and Rus'. It was about 900 years ago. — I recently talked to Mikhail Gelfand, and he said, among other things, that biology is criminally understudied in Russian schools. Do you agree with this, and why does the average citizen need any additional knowledge of biology at all? — I'm probably ready to argue with Misha in this case, I don't know why ordinary people need the knowledge they need... Well, it's good. Another question — for the vast majority of people this knowledge won't be applicable practically. Well, we could all learn what a gene is, what is its material carrier, DNA, how genes work or don't work, We would enjoy it, as we like it ourselves.
This turned out to be important in the context of vaccination. In Russia, the vaccination rate was much lower than desired, and perhaps one explanation was that people didn't accept the idea of vaccination because they lacked knowledge. If it had been explained to them that there was a virus and many thought there was none, they would've immediately said, "Ah, well, there is a virus, I'm convinced! I'm going to get vaccinated."
Unfortunately, in countries where the level of vaccination is higher, the level of biological education is not always higher, and in general a number of well respected sociological studies have shown that irrational use of these arguments, in particular education popularization of science, has no influence on what decisions people make regarding medical interventions. It's good to educate others. Doesn't matter in which subject, in my opinion. You can study biology, though it's not obvious to me why. — A VTsIOM poll was published the other day, in which 44% of Russians believe that foods with GMOs can cause cancer. At first the number seems terrible, but then it turns out to be 23% lower than what it was in 2014.
When you see this confusion, these conspiracy theories, the nonsence that people believe in because it's all being broadcast, how do you feel about it and should there be some kind of campaign to debunk these myths? — I think that in many countries the percentage of these conspiracy ideas is more or less the same. And that it's quite high. We're talking about disengagement, estrangement, when people are far from the mainstream of culture, science, the state, whatever. If you're doing nothing but watch as the technological procgress drives right by you, you'll get mad and think things like that, That, I think, is all in the head, not in the genes. It's amazing, but research shows that you can't fight irrational fears in rational ways. Oddly enough, you can fight it with YouTube videos, it can be some role models, someone who has cancer, for example.
So to speak, if a child gets sick, they become a natural geneticist. Some will still go to fortune tellers, of course, but the rest will still make it to the hospital. So, yes, that's the way it is. — Don't you think it may also be the issue or even the fault of scientists who can't explain what they do? — No, no, no, you need to... Look, first of all, to become a scientist, you have to be born and love it.
Either your parents brought you up way, or you grew up like this there are plenty of scientists who came out of nowhere, that is, they did not come from families of scientists. Four years to get a bachelor's degree, two years for a master's degree, according to the Bologna system. Plus 4 years of graduate school, which is 10 years in total.
When you come out of graduate school as a Ph.D. student, you still aren't a scientist. You spend your whole life studying and becoming something else. No one comes up to physicists at CERN and asks: "Why is it important for me to know about the Higgs boson when I eat yogurt at breakfast? While I'm here drinking tea, can you explain the basics briefly? What's it about?" There's no such thing. Conventionally speaking, when you get on an airplane, you don't ask anyone to explain to you how it goes up in the air. Can you imagine, a thing weighs 100 tons and can fly.
It's just not possible, and if it were possible, it would be profanity. It should be understood that anyone who begins to popularize complex things, and science is complex, will be forced to give people without formal education, a standardized, simplified overview of things, and it won't get you anywhere as you'll start to lie. And the worst thing is that the people to whom you're explaining, who think they are advanced, they will think that they have now know something, and then you will be like Christ, looking at the apostles, thinking, "My God! I didn't say that at all. What are they saying?" — 44% of Russians are afraid of GMOs and think that GMOs cause cancer. Isn't that a scary number? — It's normal. The same thing is happening in Europe. People are afraid of GMOs. So what.
This means that there's a big challenge, if there's ever a need to spread the GMOs more widely, in terms of economy, people will need it to be explained to them. Basically, if it comes to an extreme and there's nothing to eat at all, they'll eat GMOs like it's their favorite. Right? The thing is that we really want to believe that won't happen.
It's like the classic history of antibiotics or something. Antibiotics were actually introduced during World War II, simply because there soldiers dying on the battlefield that needed to be treated. Then the war ended, but they had antibiotics left, they decided to keep using them, even though people were suffering and dying, there used to be severe after effects. It is the same with IRNA vaccines, which after the pandemic will be widely used and developed for all kinds of viral diseases. But, in fact, when someone said that these vaccines were not fully tested, that was true. They couldn't have been tested because there was no actual practice.
Now there is. This is the kind of mind—bending that will probably involve some unpleasant events. Otherwise, it won't happen. — Perhaps you could give us some brief explanation as to why people shouldn't be afraid of GMO foods? — Look. You can try to break down people's fears
into the component parts. Some people are afraid of GMO foods because they think there's DNA in there. But all other foods have DNA in them, unless you eat rocks. There is no DNA in rocks. All other organic foods, like cucumbers, tomatoes, meat, corn, fish, have fish, cucumber, tomatoe DNA, and so on. People's main considerations about GMOs are that they consume consume something unnatural, which can affect their own precious genome.
A dear part of them, in that sense. But if there were such a genetic mechanism for how food affects our body, then we would, by eating everything we eat in life, have to experience it for ourselves. That won't happen. This is to begin with. The functional definition is that there are no known ways in which the genes of the food we ingest affect our genome. There isn't one. The history of humanity and, well, of everything else, shows it. The second point is that you can eat, for example, a cucumber from your grandmom's garden and it's natural, but in this cucumber they put some gene, a gene from some bacteria that allows the cucumber to be resistant to some butterfly that eats them.
Then, in fact, the claim is that an alien gene, being put into a food product, can somehow affect the properties of that product, for example, make it toxic. There are toxicological studies on this subject, that prove the equivalence of modified and unmodified foods. They prove that this cucumber remains the same. All the talk about how your grandmom's cucumber smells like this while cucumber smells differently... That's not how intelligent people talk. Discussing it in rational terms with people who say they or their grandmother ate cucumbers and got a rash is pointless, what can you do? — Another modern scare story is the well—known ethno—specific biological laboratories.
I was recently arguing with an acquaintance of mine, and he sent me several articles in which American people are discussing a similar topic. I'm talking about ethno—specific biological weapons. Some Americans in Congress are expressing fears that this kind of weapon might affect certain people, a certain race, that such things are being developed somewhere right now. And what is the actual situation? Can we say that such a weapon exists today, that someone's working on it, is it even theoretically possible to create it? — Let me start from afar.
It's possible to create substances hat will have an effect on one biological object, and not on other objects. For example, antibiotics attack other bacteria, but they won't kill us. Pesticides kill bugs, but not us. Herbicides kill weed plants, but they don't kill other plants. Thus, there is a way to achieve a targeted effect of some agent on some biological object. But that biological object must be substantially different from other objects on which the substance has no effect.
This is, in fact, selectivity. In order for selectivity to be sufficient, the objects need to be very different from each other. The problem is that people don't really differ from each other.
You see, you and I even have almost similar long hair. And so does Gelfand. Well, we really don't differ much from each other. Finding a way to kill you but not me, or vice versa, based on the difference in our genes, is not possible at the moment, because you and I are all human first and foremost, which means that all our genetic differences come from genes that are not essential to life. To kill someone, we have to change something essential in them, right? So you have to target your voter agent with some essential gene. Our essential genes are basically the same in all humans.
make us who we are are contained mostly in non—essential parts of our genome. — To what extent is this possible, in the future, when the instruments are more accurate and it's made possible, to emphasize even the smallest differences? — I think it's impossible. Look: bioweapon development programs existed in the United States and the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union, there were leaks, all sorts of unpleasant stories, but in general, apparently, in terms of military application and effectiveness, it's pointless. Weapons should be selective, they should be easy to ship, it should be stored well, it can't have a harmful effect your own troops.
And so on and so far. In the case of biological objects, this is impossible to manage. You can, of course, determine a person's genome, run after that person, try to inject something in them, or breathe something in them... No, I don't see it happening.
I think that people who talk about this are either faithfully deluded, because they believe too much in the power of biology and don't see that we don't really know anything, or they are simply unfaithful in their delusions and are trying preferential treatment, money or something else... political capital. — The question is practical: how are things with immortality today? — Things are exactly the same as they have always been: in the end, everybody dies and will keep dying. All the seeming change, well, all the natural change in life expectancy that occurred in the twentieth century. The twentieth century was characterized by an absolutely explosive increase in life expectancy, which is due to the fact that we were able to defeat a number of infectious bacterial diseases because of the use of antibiotics. We also were able to control and defeat viral diseases, thanks to the development of vaccination methods, and, most of all, to the improvement of water supply systems in cities.
The water has become clean, we have stopped drinking where we we go to the toilet. Separated one thing from another, I mean. So infant mortality has dropped dramatically, and people are living longer. if you didn't die, you kind of live longer than you would if you hadn't died in the 19th centuy as a child or any other age or state. There shouldn't be such a thing, and I don't understand where that idea came from. — But, wait, in my opinion, this is a completely simple, understandable dream of being immortal.
We remember Koshchei the Immortal from fairy tales. — That's true, but we also remember flying carpets. No one is discussing the possibility of moving faster than the speed of light.
Although sci—fi believers have some ideas about space bending, etc. Those are just stories, aren't they? Everyone seems to accept that there is such a limit and we need to live with it. There is no reason to believe that it is possible to achieve immortality. There is an understanding that each species has some kind of lifespan. Naturally, there is some distribution around the average, some living less, some living more.
It has to do with luck, external conditions and some genetic component, in a complex way. In general, being rich, healthy, successful, and whatever is a good thing. Well, by the way, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to live long. — It's a good thing. But sometimes there's information in the news that, for example, an aging gene has been discovered, that you can somehow turn them off, and then aging will at least slow down. We're not talking about immortality, but supposedly it's possible to double you biological life expectancy.
— We agreed with you that you don't understand much about genes. — Yes. — Yes. People who have little understanding of the subject described to them read articles written by people who don't understand what they are writing.
This is how all these myths and legends appear. I think that if you filter it all out, yes, indeed, over the last 10 to 15 years, scientific research related to longevity has developed a lot. It used to be considered a field for freaks, but now it's being taken more or less seriously, and all the tests are not being run on poeple, I shall say, but on mice, flies, plants, etc. Things like that. There is data that shows that, indeed, there are some gene variants that can somewhat lengthen the lifespan of carriers of such gene variants. On the other hand, the most effective for prolonging life among all the species that have been studied, humans have not been researched. It's just about the reducing number of calories consumed.
It's as simple as that. Flies that don't eat much live longer on average. — So you have to eat less? — There you go. And then we ask if we should also drink less and who needs such a lifestyle then. — Yes, I see. — Look, one more time, so there's no misunderstanding.
This is data from animal models. I would like to say that if scientists have shown something on flies, it will be the same for people, but we are not flies. That's very important. — Okay. You and I have gradually came closer to a thing that is connected to a biohacking phenomena. People are trying to figure out a new format of life to somehow prolong their own lives. They take some kind of pills, manage their lifestyle, trying to trick nature and somehow improve their lives.
What do you think about biohacking and are there any interesting studies and methods in this field? — There is no interesting research on this subject. This is, unfortunately, or maybe not, a result of the fact that science has come out of the ivory tower, has become available to everyone, and everyone can really try it. Why not. If the biohacking movement grew bigger, if they could systematize all the things they are doing to themselves, it would be pretty useful, I guess. That said, these people wouldn't leave their genes for the future, which would probably be nice too.
People who have are not educated in the biology field who inject some kind of a... a genetic editor if that's even what it is, into their thighs in front of a camera, and then showing the results on said camera... they can't be taken seriously, it's a different thing. There is no scientific basis for doing things like that. Unfortunately, because it'de be such a great thing, and this idea is everywhere, starting from youth creativity centers like Sirius and Quantorium that we have in Russia.
It's like the scientists are so dull and bad, they sit around in their labs and think, "Let's call all the ordinary people solve all the world's problems together!" We are not dumb, are we? You know, like in the song by Vysotsky: "Fellow scientists! Associate candidates!" As the collective farmers sang then, "If you can't do something, you deal with our potatoes, and we'll come to your labs and deal with the issues." Well, it doesn't work that way. — Okay. Can I ask you one more stupid question? — Of course, fire away. No point in stopping now! — From a man who doesn't understand anything about genes.
In Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari fantasized about the future, he also described it being one of the models of the future the possibility of programming one's children. Simply speaking, he tells it'd be like when going to the doctor, where they tell you that you can add 10XP to intelligence, make your child more assertive, by changing the child's genes while it's in its embryo state, like when you choose a new car. Again, theoretically, how probable is this in the future? Or is it totally impossible? — We're going back to the definition of genetics. We're actually talking about family planning now. Family planning is that case of "Future now", because, if we're talking about severe inherited genetic diseases, the nature of which is known, it is possible, with, for example, with in vitro fertilization procedures, to avoid a situation where the embryo turns out to be its carrier or...
But we have to understand that it's an intrusion when someone decides who will live, who will not, right? But that's possible. All the other things, like the shape of the nose, which is probably related to the size of one's posterior, or something like that... These things are not genetically determined. So what is there to change? I think those who worry about this should be concerned about raising their children.
In general, education is a very effective thing. Education, indoctrination, and propaganda allow us to get many things from other people without genetic changes. Why complicate things? But real diseases, the genetic diseases, their amount, their prevalence rate will be possible to control in the relatively near future, decades from now, can somehow be controlled by genetic interventions. That's what I believe. — Can you choose the color of your eyes? The genes are responsible for it, no? — Yes, but there are lots of them, unfortunately. It's not just one gene.
You can choose anything, but... For example, I have three children, they all have different eyes... — Yes, but it's the will of chance.
But in the future, for example, if me or my grandchildren come to the doctor, will they be able to choose an eye and hair color of their child, like in a shop? — For hair color, go to a hair salon and you will have everything you need. For eye color, buy contact lenses, they allow you to change it. There's no way to do it. These are all very complicated signs.
It was discovered that nail thickness, which is a matter of concern for a lot of women doing manicures, it is a serious issue for women, it is determined genetically, but the genes that control it, there are dozens of them. So, if you want to change something in an existing embryo, you will have to make multiple genetic modifications affecting various genes. Note that you can only do it when the egg is already fertilised. You can't do it when you are only planning to have a baby.
You can't do it with an adult person either. There's also a serious ethical problem here. Let's say, now we are trying to make a future girl's nails thicker, but what if in 20 years thin nails will be trendy and cool. We are practically make a decision without asking that girl.
On what grounds? What if my parents are idiots and they want to do something to me that I don't want at all. — Okay. Now let's talk about the coronavirus pandemic, which seems to be over now. — No, it's coming back now. — Yes, now it seems to be back.
Looking at how the world reacted to all this, what were the major mistakes made, in your opinion? Which country acted in the most efficient way? Whose approach was the right one? — I don't think there is a right approach here. Each country took measures in accordance with the situation they had there. It was an unprecedented thing, after all. You couldn't predict it. It was a natural process of the virus' evolution and spread. We can use the number of deaths as a proxy, the ratio of the number of deaths to the population.
Unfortunately, in this sense, Russia is not doing very well. Peru has the highest death rate. And Russia is second in this sad list. Does it mean that the measures taken were wrong? Does it mean the healthcare system is bad? We can't really say that. Here is what I liked about the pandemic: in these two years, great effort was made to develop and introduce completely new vaccines, it has shown that our science is indeed useful! You see? Nothing like this happened before.
It is the first time so many new drugs have been developed and produced. Drugs that have saved millions of lives. — What is your attitude to Bill Gates, who is now being demonised by many. — I don't have any attitude, I don't know him personally, fortunately or unfortunately. How should I feel about him? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been supporting a number of projects in poor countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia for many years.
The projects that contribute in improving healthcare in these countries. They are saving lives. That's a great job! Taking into account that commercial companies are not entering these countries that much, because the purchasing power of people their is low, it is a really important thing that they are doing. I can't say anything about his computers, because I've been using Macintosh since the late 1980s. — I was talking not about the computers, but about the coronavirus. That's when everybody started demonising him, recalling his Ted Talk where he basically predicted a pandemic.
People immediately decided he was the one who started it in the first place. And we are often told that if a person invests in vaccines, they will create demand on purpose by causing pandemics. — I think this speaks more not about Bill Gates, it doesn't speak at all about him, it speaks about people making these statements. Moreover, I suspect that 99,9% of people saying this stuff haven't even seen Bill Gates' Ted Talk at all! — Maybe they saw snippets of it taken out of context in Mikhalkov's show. — He interpreted the Talk himself. You know, like in that joke: "— I don’t like Pavarotti — Have you been to his concert? — No, but my friend sang some to me".
— Okay. About COVID—19: should we go get revaccinated now? A practical question. — For me, this is not a question, because I am going to the States soon, so I will have to get the vaccine again. In the US, at the universities, and it is not a state policy, it is a policy of the universities, but you should remember there are a lot of students there, revaccination is mandatory for both professors and students. This is a condition of being at work or at the place of study.
Without any 'buts'. You just have to be revaccinated. I think this is absolutely correct. However, new variants of the coronavirus that are spreading fast now, one of the reasons why they spread so fast is that they are less sensitive antibodies produced by existing vaccines or by previous variants of the virus.
This is the evolution of the virus in action, it's the second year when we can witness it ourselves. So, yes, you should get revaccinated, in my opinion. And it's better to get the vaccines developed for the omicron variant. Such vaccines will be introduced in September in the United States. Such vaccines have already been developed at the Gamaleya Center. They are not certified yet, but they are effective.
after these vaccines, the amount of antibodies, which neutralise the omicron, increases. That's good. — But that's in the future, what about now? It makes no sense to go get another Sputnik V or Moderna shot, right? — No, that's wrong.
One of the reasons why scientist have hard time explaining stuff to very smart, very bright people, but without academic background, is that ordinary people usually see things in black and white. Yes and no. Although the truth is about a certain degree. So, the existing vaccines definitely increase the level of your immunity, meaning that the chance to get infected is lower for you. If you get infected, you are more likely to recover quickly. And the chance of dying is lower if you are vaccinated.
However, it is not a 100% guarantee. And the new vaccines will give you a higher percentage of guarantee of not getting infected and of not dying from it. This is the statement. As of today, 12 billion doses of vaccines have been used in the world.
I mean, coronavirus vaccines. That's a lot! The highest number ever. No doubt, these vaccines create an overall protective background for us.
Their effect decreases over time, so what is left to do? There are to drugs to cure it, so you will use these vaccines anyway. Counting the number of people getting infected, and a lot of people are getting infected now, then even a slight difference in the effectiveness of a vaccine, let's say the effectiveness of the new one comparing to the old one, will result in thousands, hundreds of thousands of people getting less sick and not having complications after. And thousands of lives saved. Or maybe tens of thousands of lives. That's why new vaccines should be developed, and when their effectiveness is proved, they should be used. When we discuss it as epidemiologists, we should forget about ourselves, and look at it more globally, look at the statistics. — Thanks a lot! Those were all my questions for today.
It was really interesting. I am going to read more about genes, not to ask stupid questions next time. — That means next time will be in five years.
— I see. Deal! — Deal! Goodbye! — Goodbye!