More influence on humans than genes

Regarding your article about the human genetic code ("Where will DNA map lead us?" June 26): It is important to maintain a balanced perspective about the significance of the sequencing of human DNA. As a professional biologist studying the history of life, I have a healthy respect for genes and genetics. But the hype about the Human Genome Project has exaggerated its significance for science and human well-being.

All organisms represent the interactions of their genes with their physical, biological, and social environment. Emphasizing the importance of genes to the extent currently happening in the scientific and general media conveys the false notion that genes determine our health, our identities, and our quality of life. Genes contribute to these aspects of our existence, but so do myriad environmental influences. Globally, most human health problems today result from poverty, environmental degradation, or meat-centered diets. We should be paying more attention to these issues than to the nucleotide sequence of human DNA.

Catherine Badgley Ann Arbor, Mich.

Your article "Where will DNA map lead us?" points out that, "This redefinition raises concerns about employers or insurance companies discriminating against people because they carry gene mutations...."

Why the sudden concern over the probabilistic use of genetic information?What this and many other articles like it fail to point out is that discrimination based on genetic makeup is nothing new.

One does not need a complete mapping of the human genome to understand that genetic code is what makes a person eithermale or female.Life-insurance companies will use this single aspect of our genetic code to set their rates for life insurance and our government will use it to set the number of years allowed forwithdrawal of one's IRA savings.

Why should discrimination based on a small component of one's genetic code be accepted practice, while even more accurate health and longevity predictions based on a complete genetic mapping are considered unethical?

Roland L. Penny El Paso, Texas

Taiwan's desire for independence

Your June 30 article "Taiwan waves olive branches, but China's still talking tough" states: "Taiwan and China have been politically split since the 1949 Chinese civil war," but in truth the separation has been much longer and more fundamental than that comment suggests. Japan occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, and prior to that period Chinese sovereignty over the island was loose at best. Several times during the colonial period, after pirate incidents off the coast of Taiwan, Chinese leaders disavowed to complaining European powers any responsibility for the island. In short, Taiwanese aspirations for independence are more deep-rooted (and justified) than the context of the cold-war period. I lived in Taiwan during 1991-92 and heard this firsthand from many Taiwanese, from cabbies to pastors to entrepreneurs. Both Beijing and the Kuomintang want the world to lose sight of this.

David Robinson Columbus, Ohio

Chrysler's PT Cruiser not economical

I read with great delight "Car craze takes Americans back to the future" (June 21). But there is a very important feature which makes the PT Cruiser unacceptable to me and should make it unacceptable to most people: gas mileage. The PT Cruiser gets a dismal 24 miles to the gallon - yet another one of the PT Cruiser's retro-features. This is not economy.

Sean P. Ward San Francisco

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