What is — the Cost — of our Technological Advancement?

We live in an amazing day and age.  Knowledge has increased exponentially in our lifetime.  What was considered impossible just a few years ago, is now not only possible — in some cases it is commonplace.  A whole generation has arrived that takes being able to text, or to talk, or to watch video, or to catch the news; anywhere and at anytime from their handheld device as normal; and they are disappointed, “something’s wrong,” if they can’t.

Some of us may remember when these ideas were just fanciful imaginings of cartoon characters like Dick Tracy.  There was a time that life and society seemed to move at a more casual pace — a time when we had to write a letter to communicate with someone; a time when distance and geography really did affect our ability to know some things; and thus our expectations were tempered differently — and we seemed to have more of an awareness of the realities involved in life.

There is, no doubt, much good that has arrived with knowledge and new technology.  One would hope necessities like production and distribution of food, warmer-safer homes and fast reliable communication would be benefits accrued from this information explosion.

And, for example — regarding fisheries science — we just received news of a cutting-edge technology where fish genetics and analysis is concerned.  A researcher can now achieve “literally over a trillion base pairs of data with one month’s lab work!”  A benefit of this is in now being “able to fish whole genomes for differences in suspected functional genes.

Phenomenal! And it even goes beyond that, with specimens “which showed no DNA bands when isolated… they still got sequence data from them… The procedures… assemble 500 bp or shorter, sequences into contiguous stretches.  As long as you have a reference… the rainbow genome for instance, you can begin searching for lots of nuclear markers.”  If I were to categorize this, I’d say its like looking for not the DNAbut for a DNA fingerprint!

Yet, ironically, there is often a cost associated with these wonderful new technologies; both in terms of price and in terms of time involved.  I can’t yet say exactly what the cost for this exciting new lab capability is, but I can rest assured that it’s not at all cheap—yet it could potentially explore the complete genome of unknown cutthroat species and provide new markers and identification that would, in theory, remove any doubt as to heridity, etc.

This technology has a caveat (if I understand correctly) in that it “needs to be able to run over a thousand (individual specimens) at a time.”   Well, if that refers to one strain, such as a thousand Alvord phenotypes — I,  for one,  doubt whether so many can be found… And since there’s divergence among the appearance of the phenotypes, there may also be divergence among the genetics of the remaining trout that express the Alvord phenotype.

Which makes one wonder if it will be version 2, or version 3 of this exciting new technology before it can genuinely be applied to the challenging and urgent situation in ***** Creek?

I’m all for new technology.  I’m all for advancement, improvement, increased knowledge.  Though I sometimes wonder at what price —what cost— will these advancements come?

What I meant earlier by “our expectations were tempered differently—and we seemed to have more of an awareness of the realities involved in life” is that sometimes there is a value to “getting one’s hands dirty,” or to seeing things up-close and personal rather than through the prism of technology or media.  There is a value to experiencing the reality of nature and wilderness in contrast to being taught about nature in a classroom setting or via media spots designed to convey just a single message.  1st hand experience is irreplaceable.

The value of field time—time spent with the element of nature—brings an appreciation and dimension of reality that the classroom or laboratory cannot emulate.  True, a class or lab may introduce subject matter, and uncover great secrets; yet there is an essential value to experiencing the natural world and the wonders of nature firsthand: up-close & personal. This is true with almost every science.  To truly get the whole picture — to fully understand and comprehend a subject—in the field experience is almost certainly still the best teacher.

I believe that rich in-the-field experience is what Dr. Behnke brought to the table when he said “The best advice I can give I borrow from Peter Larkin’s keynote address many years ago: “Simplify, simplify, simplify”.  The goal is to create a population of trout phenotypically representative of the extinct alvor­densis by selecting specimens from ***** Creek that most closely resemble alvordensis…If all of the proposed actions, especially genetic testing were attempted to be carried out with all of the associated planning and funding, I doubt the goal will ever be attained.  It’s human nature to put off until tomorrow what could and should be done today. Accept that ***** Creek trout are not pure but retain the hereditary basis to phenotypically duplicate alvordensis. What can more and more genetic analysis tell us except… the present population is… the product of more than one parental population?”

I hope that we haven’t lost something in the process of advancement.  There’s something to be said for doing things the old fashioned way and taking life perhaps more at face value than the impersonal or more sterile (even though more technologically advanced) lens that has become so common today.  A lab test may be able to tell us what our eyes cannot see… Yet, it is also true our own eyes can sometimes tell us things that a lab test cannot tell us…

So, perhaps common sense and discernment are the most essential “scientific ingredients” we need in order to best determine what our priorities and our course of action should be.

It is quite apparent that Dr. Behnke was right in saying “the point is that ‘genetic research’ can go on indefinitely because new techniques are continually being developed. Genetic and other proposals to better characterize the ***** Creek trout can be done after a transplant is made.  There are no logical reasons that they should be a pre-requisite for a transplant.”

Our hope is that we will be able to see the day that advanced genetics technology will fully resolve any questions or doubts or complexities where the ***** Creek Alvord phenotypes are concerned.  Yet there have to be Alvord phenotypes alive in order for that to happen.

Whatever resources we have—whether time, or money, or manpower, or intellect; it seems to us that securing and establishing the best of the remaining Alvord phenotypes into a self propagating (self-reproducing) mode, and then letting genetic testing be put to work to the Nth degree—is the most sagacious action that can be taken for these trout and their future.

Sometimes, just preserving things as they presently still exist has its own unparalleled wisdom and value.  And that may be the only way that we will ever have a thousand of these amazing specimens to actually fully study and genetically test with these amazing new technologies.

May our technologically advanced science and sound common sense find the way to work together, for the ultimate betterment of these alienated and imperiled phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout.  May future generations be able to see and experience what we have seen.

Alvord Cutthroat Trout Illustrated by Joseph Tomelleri

Several Alvord Phenotypes

© KOD October 2011

About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
This entry was posted in Fisheries Biology and Genetics, Observations, Progress - Reply - Response - Status. Bookmark the permalink.

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