Inbreeding Woes — Quotidian — 366

(Transcript of video originally posted 03 Jan 2022)

Did you have a friend in biology class? Whose help you took to draw all those body parts, organs, insects, bird wings? But, you never had trouble drawing this guy, did you? Amoeba! You can draw any shape you want, the teacher can’t complain! You just have to finish where you started it. That’s all that’s needed.

Intro Theme Music…

Namaste!

We were talking about this amoeba. Do you remember how it procreates? How it reproduces? Binary Fission, they call it. That is, it splits its own body into two parts, daughters are born from it. It cytoplasm, its genetic content, its nucleus, everything split in two, and children are born. In fact, while researching this, I came to know (this wasn’t the “understanding” when I used to be a school kid!) that today, biologists actually categorise the amoeba as immortal! Why? Its genetic content is retained in its progeny AS IT IS. Do you get me? There is no mixing from outside! It splits itself in two, and children! And that child matures, and splits itself to form more children. Grandchildren. Identical genetic content. Is that good? That is the topic for today’s talk.

There is a place in Tanzania called Ngorongoro. What is special about it…? Let me see if you can find that out by looking at these photographs. Just look at these photographs and try to find out what is special. Are you able to guess? No? Okay, I will tell you what to observe. Now, tell me, do you get the feeling of “Oh my god, yes, Now I get it!”.. Don’t look at the animal in the foreground. Don’t look at the beautiful plain or the water. Look at the background, the horizon. There is no horizon. You don’t see a sky. You see steep mountains. Nearly a cliff! Observe carefully. I am going back in the same series. Wherever you look… there is no sky. This place is called the Ngorongoro Crater. Long ago, there had been a volcano. And, it erupted and exploded and created a crater with NO BREAKS. There are many places around the world, like this, it is called a “caldera”. A Spanish word meaning “pot”, “cooking pot”, “boiling pot”. But, it is an unbroken crater. A wall with no breaks. No gaps for animals or people to get in or get out. It is completely secluded. But, because it is such a rich “eco space”, that all kinds of animals live there. Happily. The problem that ensued though, was… In the 1960s, a specific disease, entered this zone — either through the air, or perhaps stuck to the shoe of some visitor, and infected the lions in Ngorongoro. What happened though was, the lions were all inbred, (you know what inbreeding means… basically marrying ones own close relatives, among animals). Because, there was no way out, and no way in, the animals were genetically too similar to each other. So, all animals were susceptible to this disease. And there was a threat — that all animals in that area would die out. Somehow, perhaps because man was around, they found a cure, and saved the lions from dying out. The cost of non-diversity in genetics.

There is a place called Habsburg. Long ago, in Europe, the ruling dynasty were notorious for marrying “among themselves”. They attempted to protect their riches and estates, and in an effort to preserve their blue-blood, their “almost divine” descent among mere mortals, they kept marrying cousins, second cousins, nephews, nieces, and see what happened. Do you see a unique jaw feature? A sense of … ugly… we have no right to call anything ugly. But do you that something is not alright? That is called the Habsburg Jawline.. And, from artists to surgeons, all have agreed that this is because of inbreeding. Historians have deduced diseases and deformities spread easier because of inbreeding. In the British royalty, there is this disease called Haemophilia. People lose the ability to clot blood, in case there is a cut from a bleed. They used to call it a “Royalty Disease”, and it caused quite a problem then. Again, the problems due to inbreeding.

In the dictionary, two beautiful words you may want to know. One is called consanguinity. “sang” — stands for blood. Consanguinity means “same blood”. The fact of being descended from the same ancestor. So, the advice here is “don’t marry consanguinously”. Similarly, endogamy. Again, the custom of marrying only within the limits of a local community. The fusion of reproductive cells from related individuals. Endogamy.

Banana. We all love that fruit so much. You must recently heard about the threat to the banana. Once upon a time, the Gros Michel was the most famous banana. The one that so many people consumed, the one that was sold the world over, the most exported, a Panamanian, Columbian banana. This became so famous, this became mass produced, and when a disease hit it, when a Panamanian disease affected it, afraid that this may affect business severely, scientists tried to genetically engineer it, modify it, and found out that there was another banana, very similar in taste and look and feel but resistant to the Panamanian disease, they called it the Cavendish banana. This is the banana nearly everybody around the world consumes, as a banana. You may not believe it. But the diversity of the banana has died out. What are people afraid of now? Just as there is an offshoot from covid, like the Delta, the Omicron, and now, I recently heard that there is something called the Florona in Italy.. similarly, what if a resistant Panamanian disease comes out, that is resistant to whatever you throw at it, what happens to the banana? Because, genetic engineering is not very good either. You have to allow natural diversity.

Talking about nature, She has already put much protection in place. For example, if you take two hamsters related to each other, like a “brother sister”, “cousin nephew” etc, they will not have “feelings” for each other. They will just avoid. They will not be attracted. And do you remember how seeds are dispersed from a tree or a plant? By air, by water, by explosive dispersal, or stuck to an animal, .. it is almost as if the tree wants to tell the seed: “Somehow, get away as far as you can from me. Don’t be near me always. So I can live. And you can live too”. Have you noticed flowers? To prevent self-pollination, to prevent a flower from pollinating itself, there are mechanisms. There are additional complexities in plants. A flower in a plant should not get pollinated by the pollen from another flower of the same plant. Multiple protections in place. Thanks to Mother Nature. Isn’t that super cool?!

While researching this topic, I came across something very interesting in the world of software. To prevent OSes from getting hacked, to prevent a single hack from spreading uncontrolled across multiple computers, (one rotten apple shouldn’t rot the whole barrel!), one person’s Windows OS is uniquely different using some probabilistic random variables, the binary is different from everyone else’s in the world. That is how they have written the code for it. Everybody’s is a fruit. But it is a different fruit for each person. So, if you hack a single person’s system, … if you remember the plotline of the Terminator movie, the reason why that SkyNet goes rampant is, everybody is following a single operating system and is connected to the internet. Monoculture, they call it. It is almost as if it is a death sentence, experts say.

So, how do we avoid it? Yes! You will have to try and build inter-team bonds. Don’t just be stuck to interacting among you and your pals in your team. Stretch out. Meet people you have no business with, inside your company. Forge connections. You don’t know what new things will come. A word borrowed from the world of Nature — cross-pollinate. Take pollen from a flower out there and introduce it into the flower here. And experiment. Who knows what amazing results might turn up?

In English, there used to be this phrase called “setting the cat among the pigeons”. Take a cat and release amidst a flock of pigeons. What will happen?! Yes, it will create havoc. And, yes. One pigeon might die. But, the story doesn’t end there. Secretly, all the other pigeons are happy because their wings beat fast. Their heart raced. They were actually feeling more alive, because they survived the chase. And they are better because the cat came in once in a while.

From a personal viewpoint, this is the echo chamber. You must have noticed it on a Zoom call. An infinite recursion. That is exactly what happens when you are on social media. You are confined to your small world, you are listening to the things you want to listen. All the algorithms are directed towards it. So, how do you break out?

Here is a beautiful four-way grid. Firstly, we have Source on the y-axis. Who you are receiving this from. Content, we have on the x-axis. What you are receiving. If you are going to hear familiar news from familiar people, it becomes the echo chamber. What does that mean? Nothing new will EVER enter your brain. Avoid it. Known content, from unknown sources? We can confirm. We can look for the reputation of the source. From a known source, if we receive unfamiliar content, okay, let me explore. I know you, I trust you, let me explore, thanks for the lead. And finally, unknown content from unknown sources, only then do you have the opportunity to really expand your world.

In summary then, mix it up. Get it from everybody. Give it to everybody. Thank you.

And, oh, … by the way, when do we meet next? We have finished this, we will meet on Fourth. Thank you.

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​Welcome to Quotidians — a humble attempt to bring a smile to your face… as I connect the commonplace everyday nuggets into meaningfully connected insights.

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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.

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