matt (hbergeronx) wrote,

on permanence and impermanence

I'm really excited, because the full DNA sequence of my mitochondrial DNA has just been published.

I'm still thinking about what it all means. The reality is is that the vast majority of what you're looking at is identical in almost every way to every other human being. It's also just a small subset of my personal genome. There's something about it, though, that's different from almost everyone else on the planet: at position 12279, there's a T instead of an A. In the history of science, it appears, this has never been seen before, at least in a human being.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have published even a small portion of my genome for everyone to see. At some level, it's a transgressive act of exhibitionism- I've stripped off everything else, and you can see directly into my mitochondria. That there are the tools to do this (fairly inexpensively) is just remarkable to me.

The history of mitochondria is also absolutely fascinating. It's a kind of micro-organism, with just enough information to make more of itself and make proteins from its sequence. It has a very specialized job. It has DNA about 16000 base pairs long, in a circle. And, practically every eukaryotic cell has them, and they've co-evolved over millions of years along with everything else alive, all animals and plants. Females pass them to their children. They have been passed down through time from the most recent common ancestor of everyone in my haplogroup, and from the most recent common ancestor of all humans, colloquially "Eve".

Along the way, small changes are picked up. I don't know when the small change in mine happened, but with enough work, I could probably find out. I'd have to find living descendants of the female line of descent on my family tree, starting with my mother and working my way back.

There's also another thought that strikes me. In some way, sharing this fact is the ultimate act of both permanence and impermanence- it will be searchable for so long as the Internet continues to archive such info. And, this little bit of info, which might be the same by random chance or by inheritance from a most recent common ancestor in other people, or in other beings with mitochondria. But, and this is the nature of genetic information: the tree is constantly being shaken. And for me, if this were only something in my genetic code, for me this is the end of the line: men don't pass mitochondria down to their children under normal circumstances, even if I had children.

I've been musing a lot about what seems to me the common transhumanist urge to "live forever", and at the same time contemplating carefully the opposite of this- that all things are impermanent. Change is good, and to be forever trapped in one state of being, in one moment of time, is, IMO, not. Note well- there's no judgement in whether the base is an A, or a T- it simply is. I know it's not hurting me, but beyond that, I have no idea if it means anything. It must- it's definitely a completely different protein sequence coded from it than other people. Sometimes change is good, and sometimes it is bad, but the sheer fact of life is that change is inevitable, and some days, you simply just have to accept that with an open mind and heart.

But, these are still very difficult things for me to wrap my head around.
Tags: atheism, genealogy, genetics, humanism, philosophy

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