WHY THERE CAN’T BE A PERFECT HUMAN FROM PUERTO RICO, OR ANYWHERE ELSE

BY TK OLEKSYK

Puerto Ricans are wonderful people, and over the time I have spent on the island, I have learned to love their culture, music, food, their friendliness, and the manner of talking as fast as humanly possible. They are everything above, but they are not the perfect humans.

Just like any other human culture, Puerto Rican believe in the most outrageous things, as long as it makes them feel good about themselves. In this one particular instance, the mass sensationalist hysteria was generated by the social media, and even some quite respectable press, catching most people completely by surprise in a giant wave of local pride. Unfortunately, as in many other cases, people did not look to their own experts for advice, but deferred to the loud titles of the authors who knew nothing about Puerto Ricans, except for the fact that they are different and live in some exotic place far away in the Caribbean. This proved to be an explosive combination.

Last week, Lior Pachter a blogger, and a professor from Berkeley (http://liorpachter.wordpress.com), disappointed by James Watson’s decision to sell his Noble Prize medal, wrote an entry to his private blog protesting this decision.   Among other things, he attacked Watson’s infamous position on race. To make his argument, he turned to the recent human genome data. This data came mostly from SNPedia (http://www.snpedia.com/index.php/SNPedia), a resource that listed various genetic mutations discovered while bioinformaticians around the world studied genomes from sequences in the 1000Genomes project. He set out to prove that Watson’s views on improving the human race make no sense.

It needs to be said that the Puerto Rican samples for the data used in the argument Dr. Patcher built was collected by us (Dr. Juan Carlos Martinez-Cruzado, Julie Dutil and I) three years ago, and was intended for the public use. We could never imagine that it was going to be used in this type of argument. We feel therefore an obligation to speak in this case, as it was our effort that initially made this possible. The samples were collected all over Puerto Rico to represent fully the rich genetic background of its people.

Using this genetic resource, Patcher looked at all the mutations in the database and notes the ones with a phenotypic effect. If the effect is positive, the mutation is beneficial. So the person with the most of the beneficial alleles and the least of the disadvantageous alleles must be the “perfect human”.   It just happened that the sample that clusters the closest to this made up point was a woman we collected a sample from three years ago in Puerto Rico. She was therefore designated as the “perfect woman”.

Patcher was really happy that this sample did not turn out to be of Irish/Scottish background, as he himself feared that that would give ammunition to the racists, who he believes to be exclusively white males. Inadvertently, he pushed many wrong buttons that ignited a squall of media attention in the Latin world. The blog is re-shared 160,000 times in one day. Puerto Rico was celebrating! This they believed to be the truth the always knew – supported by the fact that their women have won Miss Universe so many times!

The concept of the “perfect human” is not new. You can hear the echoes of eugenics in it, with the concerns made by the likes of Herbert Spencer. With the rise in genome sequencing, a question started to surface in the genetic and genomic circles – if there is a human who has perfect genes, what would that human look like? Watson was infamous to push this concept in his chosen circles as Patcher indicates. Personally, I tried not to pay any attention to these, for my personal belief is that when it comes to humans, nothing is perfect. However, now I can see that it was only a matter of time until someone would use this data in the argument, and the first perfect human be nominated – a Puerto Rican.

Now begins the race of the human race – an argument for the best and the worst human.   This should have been every geneticist’s nightmare – at least ever since the holocaust and the WWII.

Since it was the data I collected the one used in this argument, and it is my obligation to give an opinion as a local expert, I have to say: Puerto Ricans are wonderful people, but they are not the perfect humans.

There are many reasons why perfect humans cannot exist, neither in Puerto Rico or anywhere else.

First of all, not every human population has contributed to the discovery of beneficial mutations so far, and it is not known how many other beneficial mutations are there and what populations carry them and which are do not. If the Native Australians and Northern native populations of Russia were all included in the equation, would the result be the same? No.

Second, we do not know nearly enough about our beneficial and disadvantageous mutations.   The 60,000 mutations (or single nucleotide polymorphisms –SNPs) used in SNPedia is our current state of knowledge that keeps being augmented. This is only a fraction of millions of known, and billions of possible mutations with the unknown effects that are not recorded there. If all of these mutations were included in the equation, would the result be the same? No.

Third, not all of the populations have been used in the comparison.   Why a Dominican never had chance to be the perfect woman? The answer is simple – we have never sampled the Dominican population. This argument is nearly same fallacy as is calling the USA baseball championship the World Series – someone always wins, but does it represent the whole world? No.

Fourth, the effect of mutations is relative to the environment. Some mutations are beneficial in African jungle, others in the Great White North. The most famous example is the mutation that protect you from malaria, but gives you sickle cell anemia. How are these classified? If different populates of humans are adapted to their environment, should there a case for perfect arctic human, a perfect jungle human, and a perfect desert human, etc.? Or there is a perfect renaissance man? Or this is all about the perfect hospital survivor?

Fifth, from the calculation used in the blog it is difficult to distinguish whether the “perfect human” has the best of all genes, or just biggest mix of all genes.   However, most would agree, that the title “The most mixed up human is a Puerto Rican” would not attract much media attention and would probably place a culturally insensitive label on the author’s reputation, similarly to that to Jim Watson’s.

Finally, the author makes this point in the blog as well, if all the genetic factors are considered, the perfect human is not human at all. The only reason Puerto Ricans come closest among populations compared, is because it is the most admixed in the sample. That also means, that Puerto Ricans are also likely to have the worst human. So much for the “perfect humans” argument.

Not that anyone has really read the article. Taken by the flashy title – the perfect human is Puerto Rican, the news spread across the social media as a human wave in a stadium. Primera Hora picked it up with pride, and CNN Espanol followed with a picture of a prominent Puerto Rican female on cover. Many commentators went as far as thanking God for being part of such wonderful peoples. The frenzy is still going on.

What an example of short attention span!

If the readers only read to the article’s conclusion, where they would notice that author is a fan of the “Puerto Rico All-Star Basketball Unicycle Team” they should ask themselves: How does this Berkeley professor know so much about Puerto Rico, while I live here all my life and I have never heard about such a thing?”

This is because the example is used to show that the author is sarcastic about this comparison. In fact, he is very happy that Puerto Ricans win the comparison, because he feared that the perfect human would be a white male of British descent such as Watson. For him, the exotic remoteness of the “winning” population is a great thing. As long as it were not Anglo-Americans, it could have been elves. Sadly, the audience did not see the subtle message, the resounding “Hurrah! We have won the race of the human race!” has made everyone unable to make a critical judgment.

No offense to the unicycle team, they are famous now – the YouTube video has been seen over 22,000 times in the last three days, and their skills are outstanding. They are hardly the example of perfect humans. To get to the bottom of this, I even befriended the author on Facebook, and wrote a personal message asking him if he was really a fan, but he yet never replied.

Sadly also, if the readers finished reading the now infamous article, they would see the reference to our own Caribbean Genome Center built thanks to many individual contributions of the ordinary Puerto Ricans in a crowd-funding drive that made many of the scientific community impressed with their dedication to science and education in recent years, and brought Puerto Rican research in human genetics to the forefront of the experts’ attention.

Thus was the effort of ordinary people of the island, that a certain Berkeley professor was able to use the genome data from the certain unnamed Puerto Rican volunteer in his argument that James Watson is not a perfect human.

P.S. This morning I was riding a Dominican publico from the Haiti border to the capital of Santo Domingo. There were many beautiful people around me, both Dominican and Haitian, and a loud bachata music was playing nonstop for the last 4 hours. It gets lonely on the long rides in a foreign country, and I searched my memory for some comfort, and I recalled the face of my 10-month-old daughter Sophia. Here is the perfect woman, I thought, and the world around me smiled.

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, December 7th 2014.

 

The Scientific American Magazine published a modified version of this article.

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/2015/02/05/why-there-is-no-perfect-human-in-puerto-rico-or-anywhere-else/

48 thoughts on “WHY THERE CAN’T BE A PERFECT HUMAN FROM PUERTO RICO, OR ANYWHERE ELSE”

  1. Thanks for giving us light, this article is objective, responsible and proves again why you do deserve to be part of El Colegio ;-). Take care!!

  2. Thank you so much for speaking out. I am a little rusty on my genetics (it’s been more or less than 7 years since my last class in this field) but when this blog was read by my mother to me I questioned it so much that I told my mother ” If Puertoricans are so perfect why the hell politics and other problems exist on the island”. Yes my argument was really bad, but as you said with humans there is never perfection and for my point of view ,with the little education provided on my genetics class, for perfection or well let’s say average genome the odds are never on anyone’s favor was my first thought. Yes, I think the blogger should be mad at JAMES WATSON for being such a nasty person when it comes to race, sex and body type ( prejudice). Because first as a scientist one must be open minded (Watson’s tendencies to be racist are not opened minded) and second at the end we all finish the same… dead. The blogger should had done some more thingking before using information in a way that is misleading.

    P.S. I believe you made a typo when refering to James Watson by writing Jim Watson. It happened 3 times.

    1. Jim is short for James so perhaps the writer is using that version? Never understood why or how jack is short for John or Peggy got Margaret but..

    2. Jim is short for James so perhaps the writer is using that version? Never understood why or how jack is short for John or Peggy for Margaret but..

  3. Thank you so much for this article… I read the “perfect human is a Puertorrican woman” and of course as a puertorrican one can’t really help it to feel a momentary sense of pride and glory. Now, as a scientist I was left with a billion and one questions even though the way the article was written it did not lead me to think it could be taken too seriously but it did raise some questions. Some that I have been meaning to ask Dr. Dutil about, especially about the SNP’s. Because the way the SNP data was used in the article would lead one to think “ah puertorricans are just full of the good mutations”. But it was precisely that, how was it determined that her SNPs were near perfect, on what basis? and how and if near perfection or at least really great genetics could be determined? My mind wandered to disease predisposition… was she so full of benefitial mutations? And how could benefitial mutations be identified? And then came the thought that this was just one sample of one woman compared against a minimal amount of data so, it just does not mean much to have a “perfect human” be from Puerto Rico, especially due to the fact of how mixed we are, we might as well have the worst most genetically challenged human… if there is such a thing.

    1. Yes, and also the fact that Dominicans and Cubans weren’t mentioned. Now I understand that they were not part of the sample.

  4. Eres otro más del montón tratando de llamar la atención.
    Este artículo no lo van a publicar en Primera Hora ni en El Nuevo Día.
    Buen día.

  5. Thank you for the clarification , of an article which u considered extremely flawed. Puerto Ricans are filled with unique pride and love of our culture that others find hard to relate to. However, it is the glue that keeps us together and it is a humble pride, as we do not think that makes us better than others. We are better because we have a little of everyone. In that sense, Puerto Ricans are the perfect human, the perfect human at heart.

  6. Clarification, my phone changed it. I wrote that I considered the article extremely flawed. Thank you.

  7. It gives me such comfort to know there are responsible scientists out there who take the time to speak up and educate. It also gives me much pride to know this work is being done in Puerto Rico and that PR knows to recognize and host talent such as yours. Having “good genes” comes from luck, but supporting good science comes from intention…and that is something we can truly be proud of. Thank you!
    PS…Your Sophia has competition…I think MY 10 month old is the perfect female 🙂

  8. “Puerto Ricans are wonderful people, and over the time I have spent on the island, I have learned to love their culture, music, food, their friendliness, and the manner of talking as fast as humanly possible. They are everything above, but they are not the perfect humans.

    Just like any other human culture, Puerto Rican believe in the most outrageous things, as long as it makes them feel good about themselves.”

    Cut the above and is a perfect scientific reply.

    Puerto Rican are as perfect as any other people and they also have a great sense of humor. So lets have fun!

    1. This is a personal blog, but you are right, the cut version of this has been sent to the press and will probably come out just as you have suggested. 🙂

      1. Good to know! Where and when can we have the cut out version?

        Please note, I too believe- as some others have stated- that Puerto Ricans are playful and have a great sense of humor. We don’t take things too seriously and we’re having fun with the article! We are also well educated, and of course most know that the article was lacking in many respects. Yet, still good e o ugh for bragging and having fun! I am just sorry, someone would take your research so out of context.

    2. Yes! If he had left some of his opinions it, I would have posted this article in facebook. We are a beautiful people for sure!

  9. This guy has to be a hater of course no one is perfect dummy but genetics say that our genes are so shut up u just might be Dominican too

  10. I have read the article and realize for the first time it was kind of lacking information and proves and certainly the author was mad with Watson which I agree he discharged because the bad experience he had. I was glorified and so proud when read it for the first time and you are so right when you said you were around by wonderful people when in the border between Haiti and SDQ and its true because we don’t have the perfect human and we the puertorricans are neither but the most amazing thing is all the variety of genes and phenotypes the entire people from different places have, that is for that reason every single person have something in their genes perfect to belong and adapt to certain places.

  11. Great article…yet you are a party pooper.

    We were just having fun…this place (meaning PR) sometimes can be far from paradise, and that kind of news sometimes lift our spirit.

    1. i get you my husband is from PR its a fun idea im not hating i know my people would be having super fun if they had a Dominicans are the best article the problem with me was the people that took it to far and were trying to put all the other Latin countries down especially DR; who has almost the same history its not right because at the end of the day we face the same hardships

    2. Shining light on Genetics and educating the rest of the scientific world….yep. “Party Pooper”

  12. Problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_load)
    ‘One problem with calculating genetic load is that in order to do so you have to a have a “perfect” or “optimal” genotype with which to compare the population to; this kind of genotype simply does not exist. This is problem because it means that it is harder for scientists to gauge with accuracy how much load a population has, and how much load it can bear without being in danger. This means that all perceptions of genetic load should be taken with a grain of salt.[19]’

  13. I may not be perfect, but I am so close to perfection that already I’m beggining to feel envious of myself…….. 🙂

  14. The Perfect Human is

    One that Loves His/Her God, Loves the neighbor (The Human Race) , contributes one grain of sand to build a castle for someone else and Respects the Law of the Land.

    That is the Perfect Human

    Our Society is in total decadence due to its Wantons and Greed.

    Go Green!!!

  15. I don’t think the guy was trying to say Puerto Ricans are the closest to being the perfect people. There is no perfect people. Cultures and their people could be so messed up everywhere. I think biologist meant close to perfect as in probably the most beautiful people.

  16. I can not believe anyone would ever believe that any group of people would be considered perfect humans. Having a mixture of DNA from around the would is not exclusive to Puerto Ricans. The problem with these types of articles is people start believing they are superior to others. Hitler used a lot of articles, many written by American scientists, to back up his claim that the Aryan race were superior.

  17. You know what’s interesting! Puerto Ricans are part European, pat Black and part Native American, so all of them but not recognized belonging to any of them. A racialized group of people by mainstream culture. I am not debating the validity of this article but where was this and other individuals when negative things were said? That speaks to the hypocrisy of many; when negative stuff is said, they are silent or agree but when positive things are said, their is a problem. Hypocrisy at it’s best!

  18. It’s been at least thirty years since I took some biology class in college. One of the things discussed was “hybrid vigor.” So if you take two dogs of different breeds and they have offspring, the result is a dog that usually has more of the positive genes of both the parents and less of the recessive genes. So that what we consider ‘positive” traits, such as intelligence and health, are selected biologically, while the recessive traits from both the male and female “parents” are not passed as often. If you do this over a few generations, mixing more dissimilar dog breeds with this first offspring, the offspring keep replaying this biological selection process, and the offspring continue to get more of the positive genes, and less of the negative ones.
    The same result holds true when you mix plants, other animals, or, humans.
    It is not a casual occurrence that “mixed” peoples have more positive traits. Better resistance to diseases (assuming they don’t screw things up by overeating, not getting enough sleep, smoking tobacco and eating pounds of meat weekly), higher intelligence, and yes, better looking. So its not unusual or random that Puertorican and Venezuelan women win more beauty contests. Their absolutely awesome! And that’s because they are highly mixed ethnically. For hundreds of years since the Europeans started coming to the Americas, conquering native peoples and bringing African slaves, the Spanish and Portugese in particular, have been intermarrying with the Africans, the First Nations, as well as Chinese, et. al. The mixture is very serious.
    So if anyone wanted to study this phenomenon, they could go to those parts of the world where ethnic intermarriage has been culturally acceptable and encouraged. They will get the same results as has been reported by Professor Lior Pachter.
    What the people of Latin America and parts of Asia have been doing all this time is creating, through love, new ethnicities. The offspring are healthier, more intelligent and handsomer than their individual parts; their ancestors.
    This is not something to be ashamed of, nor to be avoided in polite, politically correct, conversation. It’s a fact that applies to plants and animals as well. It’s called hybrid vigor. Look it up, study it.
    Through the power of love, the attraction that we have for each other, the human race is moving towards a greater, better, and prettier future.

    1. CGC has been studying admixture for many years, and i am aware of that. Are you aware of admixture and its consequences in other human populations? i can tell you that there are many consequences, and not all may be beneficial to the current environment, as i have already stated in the blog post.

  19. We’re a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme
    in our community. Your website offered us with valuable
    info to work on. You’ve done an impressive job
    and our whole community will be grateful
    to you.

  20. Wow! You took the time to write such article… I am Puerto Rican and I never put much thought to the article, yes there are people that would celebrate it and this goes for all cultures… Taking it to the head is one thing but it is, after-all, understandable and fun.

  21. I’ve been around and the article is spot on. Puerto Rico has a high percentage of what I would describe as perfect women. No matter where you go in the island, you’re just surrounded by beauty. Walk down the streets in New York and the percentages just aren’t that high. Los Angeles, on the other hand, seems similar to Puerto Rico in beauty density, and that is attributed to the fact that beautiful women the world over go to Los Angeles hoping for a movie career.

    I understand it may just be my perception, but the article about Puerto Rican perfection rings true.

    P.S. Another anecdote: Many generals in the military seem to agree that Puerto Ricans are the best soldiers.

  22. I Thank You for this blog. Although, I’m know not much of science, genetics, genomes, etc., and being of Puerto Rican descent I was not eager, or fast to brag about the so called “Perfect Human”. As I have it in my heart, only one human existed on the face of the earth, and this is one science will never be able to test,, nor understand. As humans we try to find an explanation for everything. It’s known by history and some science facts through anthropology that this “perfect human” existed named Jesus Christ, of Nazarene. He left no DNA in the form of any off spring for science to test his perfection. Therefore, I guess we’ll all have to wait for his return, and make it to eternity to have all questions answered!

  23. It would be great to have the bragging rights to being the perfect human but, I believe it is correct in saying that if a full collection from a world wide gene pool is not being used , then it is an incomplete analysis. It would be interesting to see how it turns out if it ever gets done. I also believe that to do this type of analysis would create racial unrest. So..in conclusion. It’s best to keep that answer .unanswered.

  24. Well it is quite a helpful blog post.Thanks just for sharing such an information and facts here.I’m hoping you certainly will continue on enlightening individuals in future also,by way of this sort of helpful info.Carry on the good task.

  25. Yes, it’s probably right when it is said that samples from other islands like DR and Cuba should have been included in the study. They too may have been labeled the perfect genotype or close to it, since both these islands are of mixed races also. However, this research helps in stimulating interest and dialog in understanding the necessity as a species to mix for the make of a better physical human being in general. Much more interesting though is epigenetics and what foods turn the memories in cells on and off. We are the sum of all those that came before us. In researching this subject, we may have the answers to why some humans from the same family turn on the memory of cells that cause illnesses like diabetes and other members in the same family do not. Now that’s true news that deserves real bragging rights.

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