Human Genes Rife With Harmful Mutations

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To err is human -- a scientific study in today's issue of Nature says so. You can blame it on our genes. British researchers have concluded that harmful mutations in human genetic material are frequent and persistent. But don't worry. "Most species don't last more than a few million years anyway," says TIME medical columnist Christine Gorman, who notes that by that yardstick, we've still got some time left on earth. Besides, the study basically confirms "the long-held speculation that humans have a high mutation rate."

Lots of people, of course, would like to draw broader conclusions from the study. For instance, does it support the belief that, despite all these inherent errors pointing to destruction, humankind's survival shows it has the capacity to overcome itself and exhibit a spark of the divine? Well, "the study allows one to speculate that we are not so tied to natural selection pressures," Gorman says. "We have the ability to shape our environment." What about the belief that sex is good for you? Since the study shows that the rate of genetic errors is high, "the study supports the idea that sexual reproduction is a way to keep down the problems caused by genetic errors," she says. The mixing of genetic materials from two persons allows some harmful mutations to be nixed rather than simply replicated without end, as would be the case with asexual reproduction. So could all this lead to the conclusion that sex is divine? Sorry, that's a subject for another study.