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Old Jun 6 2010, 06:07 PM   #1
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Default Odds of autism on Pern?



It's said in "DragonsDawn" that the colonists were screened for physical problems and mental disorders, but from time to time, mental retardation pops up on Pern. What are the odds some of that might actually be misunderstood autism or a sensory processing disorder?

Maybe it's a silly question, but I find it hard to believe the screening system was absolutely perfect when people like Avril Bitra, her cohorts and Fax came up. And what if some mental or personality quirk that some of the colonists likely had was due to being part of the autistic spectrum?

(I also find it hard to think that physical problems like Oldive's spine -scoliosis?- didn't happen as genetic manipulation to prevent problems became impossible to do.)
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Old Jun 6 2010, 08:47 PM   #2
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

With Autism it's hard to say; we don't understand the environmental and genetic factors in current medial science, so it's hard to speculate what would happen in the future in relation to screening for this, or how complete they could be on keeping this out. How stringent were they? Would they keep an otherwise friendly and productive adult with high-functioning autism out, only because he or she would put those factors into the gene pool? I've heard articles--and I don't know how true, but they're interesting--that couples in Silicon Valley and couples that are both Scientists or Academics of some sort have a higher possibility of having children with an autism-spectrum disorder. If this is true, would it be wise to screen on autism-spectrum disorders super-vigilantly? You could be excluding a trait that makes good scientists.

So. It's hard to speculate here, about autism and autism-spectrum disorders on Pern. That said, there *was* a savant if I recall that was crazy about runner bloodlines in the books. Autism? Dunno.

We DO know that Pernese age. This is significant because there's a variety of disorders that arise out of cells aging and beginning to break down/starting to not do their jobs properly...cancer, for example, is caused by cells that don't die when they should (they reproduce out of control to the detriment of the organism as a whole). This is why 'cancer' is so difficult for medical science to get rid of...there's so many different pathways that can trigger it, it's just not one thing. Cells *need* to reproduce, so you can't just shut that off to "fix" cancer.

Downs Syndrome occurs more frequently for women who become mothers at a later age in their reproductive life. This is because its caused by the embryo having 3 copies (instead of 2) of the 21st chromosome. I'm not a doctor, but as far as I understand it, the mechanism causing this is the reproductive system being old and getting that 3rd chromosome in there by mistake, and not a "downs syndrome gene".

So if I had to speculate, I'd think Downs Syndrome is something that could occur with some frequency on Pern, even though the original colonists were screened. They'd probably screen out families that have a marked history of it, but it's something I could see arising independently again, due to the mechanics of how cells work and age.

Unsure what was up with Oldive's spine; not sure how cut and dry the factors that cause that are. Again, if it's one specific genetic screwup, and not just a specific bit of DNA that's fragile and vulnerable to mutations, I could see it being screened out. But if it's just a bit of DNA that's prone to throwing out bad things if a mutation affects it, or something that happens if a fetus is somehow disturbed in his or her mother's womb (ie, it's more environmental via an ingested toxin or something than from DNA) things could arise in an isolated population again.

I bet there's kids that have fetal alcohol syndrome, however.
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Old Jun 6 2010, 10:51 PM   #3
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

The only mentally retarded character who immediately springs to my mind is Camo, and we are told in Masterharper of Pern that his retardation was due to an accident at birth -- the umbilical cord got wrapped round his neck depriving his brain of oxygen.

Anyway, Avril Bitra was selfish and manipulative. Fax was a cunning bully. Unpleasant traits but not mental disorders.
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Old Jun 6 2010, 11:09 PM   #4
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

We do see one character who is almost certainly autistic, in Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern. I believe his name is Runel - he's an old man at Ruatha who can recite all the runnerbeasts' bloodlines and ancestors back for generations, and the Ruathan bloodline as well. And once you get him started he doesn't stop. He doesn't even seem aware of what is going on around him, unless you start talking about runnerbeast names.

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Old Jun 7 2010, 12:56 AM   #5
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

Wow, did this topic go with what I'm interested in!

In my almost-but-definitely-not-quite-forgotten fan fiction story set on Pern (I haven't updated it in forever), I have a queenrider who just happens to have what today we'd call ataxic cerebral palsy. It means that she has issues with balance and sensation, mainly below the waistline. I am having a lot of fun with her as she teaches to the 'temporarily able-bodied' characters not to assume about what she can and can't do. As far as I can tell, (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) Pern fanfic stories are few and far between that have a well-written main character with a noticeable disability, so, yeah, playing with her is a challenge and fun.

I have often wondered: what are the odds of someone having a disability on Pern? Apparently, the original colonists were screened, but 'how carefully?' remains up in the air as was mentioned above. So there could be folks with congenital disabilities; autism, cerebral palsy, and most forms of cognitive disorders are congenital. Also, considering the present environment on Pern and their somewhat primitive medical technology, there could certainly be folks with disabilites aquired through accident or illness. Deafness, spinal cord injuries, diabetes (it happens, OK?)

According to the 2000 US Census, folks reporting some form of disability represented about 20% of the US population--or about 45-50 million people. Putting that figure on the much smaller population of Pern is. . . ??
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Old Jun 7 2010, 05:58 AM   #6
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

I guess it depends on how you define disability. Today many people, particularly kids, get diagnosed with a disorder which in earlier ages would have been shrugged off as a personality quirk. On the other hand, people with learning disabilities are fortunately no longer quite so often called dumb and ignored by the education system as unteachable.

Oldive's pelvis was crushed at birth, which I suppose could have contributed to his severe scoliosis (scoliosis just means curved spine, doesn't define how the abnormal curvature developed).

Certainly, given the primitive ante and post natal care women on Pern received for most of its history, Oldive and Camo can hardly be the only Pernese who were disabled at birth. However, it may well be that most of them were killed as infants, because the holds couldn't support unproductive individuals.
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Old Jun 7 2010, 06:49 AM   #7
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

I read Runel as having Asperger's Syndrome rather thasn Autism.

As I understand it, although there are a variety of types Cerebral Palsy, they tend to be due to birth problems (eg: asphyxia in utero, hypoxia during birth, vanishing twin) rather than genetic mutation. And an English obs/gyn consultant, specialising in couples where one or both have CP, states that he's only ever known one case where the CP MIGHT be inherited.
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Old Jun 7 2010, 11:44 AM   #8
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

I believe that it can be generally accepted that the majority of inherited gentically-based diseases (like Huntington's disease, Marfan syndrome, and cystic fibrosis) did not make it to Pern due to screening. Let's face it: when you have the ability to tweak genetics, you probably can screen then very effectively too, and who in their right mind will send someone to a colony world with a genetic disease when they know how to avoid it?

While syndromes caused by gene mutation will certainly begin to reappear in the 2500 years from Landing the the 9th Pass, most disabilities/deformities would be caused by injury or environmental factors. For example, you'll still see damage to a fetus from alcohol ingestion during pregnancy and the resulting impact on the child as they develop. On the other hand, if a condition is caused by industrial environmental factors (high pollution, heavy metal exposure, etc), then it would probably be very rare on Pern. So the most common disabilities and deformities would be like Oldive and Camo - from birth trauma, injury, illness, etc.

So, it would ultimately depend on what causes the condition as to the likelihood of existence on Pern. Conditions like Trisomy D, which is a result of glitches in embryonic development, and Achondroplasia, which originally comes from mutation in sperm and egg cells in healthy adults and becomes a genetic trait thereafter, would still be present. Frequency is, of course, highly debateable.

The only clearly genetic syndrome I recall in the books is a single case of albinism referenced in Dragonquest after Ruth hatches - when Lessa is thinking about Jaxom's future and how likely it is that Ruth will survive.

Page 273 in Google Books:
Quote:
The little beast would not survive. He was too small, his color - who ever heard of a white dragon? - indicated other abnormalities. Manora'd mentioned that white-skinned, pink-eyed child from Nerat Hold who hadn't been able to endure daylight. A nocturnal dragon?
All of that aside, I would like to note that I find it amusing that STDs made their way to Pern, at least from my interpretation of Lytol's comments about Fax bedding Ruathan women in Dragonflight.

Page 19 in Google Books:
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"The conscripts from Ruatha tend to die of curious diseases or accidents. And the women Fax used to take..." His laugh was nasty. "It is rumored he was impotent for months after."
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Old Jun 8 2010, 01:41 AM   #9
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

Lady 'Holdles" from RoP, depression is another.
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Old Jun 8 2010, 03:15 AM   #10
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

I know some about Autistic Spectrum Disorders since I happen to have Asperger's Syndrome myself. While there are different severities, Runel seemed to me to have high functioning Autism, akin to Temple Grandin. Many people with Asperger's Syndrome can and have gone on to be very successful scientists engineers and computer scientists (on average higher IQ and more logical thinking), for those with high functioning autism it is somewhat less common.

So the question would be what the purpose of the screening was. If they wanted to keep genetic predisposition for such illnesses out of the gene pool for future generations, then they would have not just cared if the people expressed a gene, but if they had it, even if recessive. (More females would be turned away for colorblindness as would males because they have two chances to have a colorblindness gene)

On the other hand if the goal was to make sure that those who went to Pern were mentally stable and well enough to handle the trip, then I would imagine that some of them may have had some of the relatively benign Learning Disorders, as long as they did have the technical qualifications for the trip.
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Old Jun 8 2010, 05:09 AM   #11
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

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Downs Syndrome occurs more frequently for women who become mothers at a later age in their reproductive life. This is because its caused by the embryo having 3 copies (instead of 2) of the 21st chromosome. I'm not a doctor, but as far as I understand it, the mechanism causing this is the reproductive system being old and getting that 3rd chromosome in there by mistake, and not a "downs syndrome gene".

So if I had to speculate, I'd think Downs Syndrome is something that could occur with some frequency on Pern, even though the original colonists were screened. They'd probably screen out families that have a marked history of it, but it's something I could see arising independently again, due to the mechanics of how cells work and age.
They wouldn't screen it out, because with the odd exception (balanced translocation of chromosomes in one of the parents), trisomies and other chromosomal abnormalities are a completely random biological process, occuring very, very frequently in the grand scheme of things. For older mothers, egg quality issues can result in a higher risk of trisomies occuring due to faulty cell division, but this isn't something you're going to be able to excise or screen out from human biology.
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Old Jun 8 2010, 06:45 AM   #12
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

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Old Jun 8 2010, 06:49 AM   #13
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

My feeling is that yes, there could be autism on Pern. Some of you have already pointed out that we know there are people with both mental & physical disabilities on Pern (Camo & Oldive). True, these disabalities were caused by birth complications rather then genetic issues. This being said, I still find it hard to believe that nobody on Pern had problems caused by genetics.

Now I could be totally wrong here..... but..... I can't help but think about the Lord Holders & their families. Could it be possible that there might be a small amount of imbreeding here or there? Cousins marrying cousins? I know that they're pretty careful about that kind of thing, but it could happen.... Sure it would take more then one set of cousins having kiddies to cause severe genetic problems, but you do that more then once or twice in a family, and genetic problems are a definate possibilty.

So IMO, gentically caused birth defects could very well happen on Pern.
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Old Jun 8 2010, 01:49 PM   #14
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Now I could be totally wrong here..... but..... I can't help but think about the Lord Holders & their families. Could it be possible that there might be a small amount of imbreeding here or there? Cousins marrying cousins? I know that they're pretty careful about that kind of thing, but it could happen.... Sure it would take more then one set of cousins having kiddies to cause severe genetic problems, but you do that more then once or twice in a family, and genetic problems are a definate possibilty.

So IMO, gentically caused birth defects could very well happen on Pern.
I think the Lord Holders tended to marry their children to fosterlings (of good Holder blood) or suitably-raised daughters from other holds, so it's not so much inbreeding as breeding within a reduced gene-pool. But it wasn't always the elder sons or even the legitimate ones who inherited the Hold, so a new Lord Holder could well be married to a crafter or very minor holder, meaning less likelihood of the same faulty genes getting together.

I'd say the common people would be more likely to marry their cousins, due to having fewer opportunities to travel about to find a spouse.

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Old Jun 8 2010, 05:52 PM   #15
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

There actually is very little evidence that cousin marriages, even in the first degree, have any more risk than marriages in the general population of birth defects. It's not even a universal taboo here on Earth, and what degree and type of kinship is acceptable for marriage varies widly by culture. (In some cases, of two people who, by Western reconging would be the same degree of kinship from the spouse, one is acceptable and one is not, based on how the parents of the couple are related (a son may marry the daughter of his father's sister but not his brother, for example.))

If the Pernese were carefully screened, it's unlikely they carried any of the known genetic traits that make close-kin marriages a bad idea. Genes can mutate, so something could have come up, of course. Down's Syndrome occurs most often in women of older childbearing age, but since there is no reason for average Pernese women NOT to have children young, it seems unlikely there would be many women in the risk age group (ie 35+, past peak fertility) having a high number of children. And I don't know that it's a matter of infant euthanasia that fewer children of traumatic births survive rather than Pern simply not having the medical technology to keep the worst cases alive. You can figure any preemies would die fairly fast and cases like Camo that went on too long would be born dead. They don't exactly have NICUs. You can figure any cases of severe cerebral palsy would die. Many Downs babies are born with other, medical, defects, they'd die (and even now patients with Downs tend to have shorter lifespans as it's usually not their only problem.) Pern isn't equipped to help severely impaired infants whether they want to or not.

Runnel appeared to enter a fugue state and was a savant--he had some form of Autism. When he wasn't in his 'recitation trance' he appeared, from what little we saw, to interact normally with other people.
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Old Jun 8 2010, 10:51 PM   #16
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Savant. Thank you. I couldn't think of the word.
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Old Jun 9 2010, 01:43 AM   #17
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There actually is very little evidence that cousin marriages, even in the first degree, have any more risk than marriages in the general population of birth defects. It's not even a universal taboo here on Earth
Very true, and I am a living example of this, as my parents are in fact 1st cousins. However, if I was to marry my cousin, our offspring may indeed have problems...

I think what Eriflor said is probably also true. Any instances of this kind of thing may be more likely to occur amongst the common folk. I'm sure as hell not royalty....
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Old Jun 9 2010, 02:04 PM   #18
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Very true, and I am a living example of this, as my parents are in fact 1st cousins. However, if I was to marry my cousin, our offspring may indeed have problems...
Only if your family already happens to be carrying some sort of serious negative recessive. And even then most of those will just never develop (ie spontaneous abort) as most genetic malfunctions are fatal from the get-go. Now, if you have a family history of Huntington's Disease or some such, yeah, close crossing repeatedly isn't a good plan. The Pernese, of course, would have screened for anything like that since given their population size someone was going to end up breeding with a close relative.
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Old Jun 10 2010, 12:47 AM   #19
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Hmm.. yes you got me there. It doesn't automatically mean that something bad would happen on a genetic level, but it would up the odds a little. Mind you, it's possible that I didn't escape totally unscathed.... I'm like uber short... does that count? Now I think about it, when my brother was around 5, he used to run around singing "Megan is a mutant".... Darn... maybe he was right...
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Old Jun 10 2010, 01:42 AM   #20
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Savant. Thank you. I couldn't think of the word.
I think the term is 'idiot savant', where someone is average intelligence or below, but has a single freak ability, like being able to do complex math problems in his head.

A savant is 'a man of learning, especially a distinguished scientist' (Oxford English Dictionary).

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Old Jun 10 2010, 01:55 AM   #21
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There is a theory that the hemophilia which plagued various European royal families in the late 19th early 20th century was due to a spontaneous mutation in Queen Victoria or her mother. Presumably there was no way of guaranteeing that the descendants of the colonisers would not suffer from such mutations, although a hemophiliac Pernese probably wouldn't have lasted very long.

Incidentally, the BBC site reported news about the genetics of autism today:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/10275332.stm
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Old Jun 10 2010, 01:31 PM   #22
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There is a theory that the hemophilia which plagued various European royal families in the late 19th early 20th century was due to a spontaneous mutation in Queen Victoria or her mother. Presumably there was no way of guaranteeing that the descendants of the colonisers would not suffer from such mutations, although a hemophiliac Pernese probably wouldn't have lasted very long.

Incidentally, the BBC site reported news about the genetics of autism today:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/10275332.stm
Certainly, there would be chance for genetic mutation to occur after screening, but screening would have removed the majority of currently existing, inheritable diseases, so there would be a fairly clean initial gene-pool to work from. It takes time for a mutation to become prevalent in any population, especially in a society where unhealthy children are unlikely to survive to adulthood and pass on their genes. It has several times been said that the reason the world sees so many people with severe genetic disorders is the higher standard of care in the medical field - infants that would have almost universally died even 50 years ago are now not only surviving but thriving.

On Pern, it is very much a survival of the fittest scenario, with people like Oldive and Camo being exceptions to the rule. After all, their parents lived in population centers with ready access to healers, which makes a significant difference for chances of survival, versus a child born in a remote hold with a similiar injury would likely die as there is no ready access to skilled healers. Jaxom is a clear example of good luck saving a child who would have otherwised perished - had his foster-mother not been nursing a child already, he would have died for lack of sustenance.
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Old Jun 10 2010, 01:45 PM   #23
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Sorry for the double post, but this caught my eye.

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I think the term is 'idiot savant', where someone is average intelligence or below, but has a single freak ability, like being able to do complex math problems in his head.

A savant is 'a man of learning, especially a distinguished scientist' (Oxford English Dictionary).

Eriflor.
I think that Runel would not be a savant, idiot or otherwise. Runel seems to function just fine before he starts doing recall on the runner lineage. He is stated to be eidetic - I wonder if he might be descended from Joel Lilienkamp, who was noted to have eidetic memory as well? Whether his intensity when reciting lineages is due to a disorder or a result of the focus it takes to access the memories in proper sequence is less easy to figure out. We just don't have enough information about the character to make a good guess - you only see him for two pages in the book. He is noted to go into a 'trance' as he recites Squealer's lineage, but nothing further is said about his personality or behaviors to provide insight on his mental state.

Pages 35-36 in Moreta, Del Rey 1983, give all the information we have on Runel regarding his abilities - the only other notation about him is Alessander reflecting on his death during the plague.
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Old Jun 10 2010, 10:43 PM   #24
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Fax was a cunning bully. Unpleasant traits but not mental disorders.
Actually, I think Fax can be classified as an outright psychopath. Bullies don't slaughter whole families, take over several Holds, and terrorize "the working class" in the sheer amount he did. Saying he was a bully is like saying Alex from "A Clockwork Orange" was a juvenile delinquent.


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Old Jun 10 2010, 11:15 PM   #25
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Look at the career of almost any mediaeval monarch. I don't think psychopath is a particularly useful category to describe individuals in societies other than modern industrialised ones, and even then I suspect it's tossed around far too loosely.
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Old Jun 10 2010, 11:35 PM   #26
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Look at the career of almost any mediaeval monarch. I don't think psychopath is a particularly useful category to describe individuals in societies other than modern industrialised ones, and even then I suspect it's tossed around far too loosely.
There's a TV program (locally on the History channel) called 'Ancients Behaving Badly' that examines the lives and actions of various ancient rulers (like King David, Caligula, and Alexander the Great) and grades them psychologically according to several criteria. You might find it interesting.

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Old Jun 11 2010, 12:49 AM   #27
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I might, except that I don't live in N. America so am unlikely to get the opportunity.
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Old Jun 11 2010, 02:10 AM   #28
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Red face Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

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Originally Posted by bingley View Post
I might, except that I don't live in N. America so am unlikely to get the opportunity.
You might find it www.history.com They do have many of them you watch clips of the show. http://www.history.com/search?search...t-type=On%20TV

Hope it helps.
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Old Jun 12 2010, 03:07 PM   #29
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

I managed to catch part of that show, if it's the one I'm thinking of. Interesting stuff.
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Old Jun 5 2012, 12:15 AM   #30
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Default Re: Odds of autism on Pern?

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Only if your family already happens to be carrying some sort of serious negative recessive. And even then most of those will just never develop (ie spontaneous abort) as most genetic malfunctions are fatal from the get-go. Now, if you have a family history of Huntington's Disease or some such, yeah, close crossing repeatedly isn't a good plan. The Pernese, of course, would have screened for anything like that since given their population size someone was going to end up breeding with a close relative.
Sorry I'm resurrecting such an old topic, especially as it went off-topic, but I noticed a couple of points I feel I had to reply to.

1) All families will contain members who carry at least one, and possibly several, genetic conditions unique to them and their relations. Most (but not all) will be lethal if two of that gene came together in an embryo, leading to stillbirth or spontaneous abortion, often very early on, but others would be survivable and would occur if inbreeding was a repeated incident within the extended or close family, look at what happened to the Egyptian pharoahs.

2) We all carry at least one, and often several, deleterious recessive genes. Screen people and exclude those with any such and no-one would make it on to the ship.

3) As Huntington's is dominant, inbreeding wouldn't make much difference. In Venezuela there is a community of interrelated people whose families all have at least one affected member and often more than one. There are also individuals with two copies of the Huntington's gene, and having two copies seems to be no worse than possessing just one. The gene responsible seems to have a genetic "stammer" that lengthens it: The longer the gene, the earlier the onset of the condition. It appears that when transmitted via the mother the gene length stays the same, but when transmitted via the father, the "stammer" often gets longer. The youngest I read about who had it and was symptomatic (not sure how many copies of the gene she had) was about two years old...

I can't recall where I read about any of this so cannot at this mo give references,,,probably a university textbook or a book I ipicked up out of interest.

I, like others here have also mentioned, also have Asperger's Sybdrome and genetics is one of my special interests.

4) Cerebral Palsy and spina bifida are two congenital conditions that cannot thus be screened from. Both conditions can occur with different severity, so it is likely there would be people on Pern with mild cases of both these conditions, who could, wih or without walking aids, be productive. Even old Uncles and Aunties on Pern help with children or peeling veggies or somesuch. As I recall in Dragonsong it was mentioned one of Menolly's uncles had lost his legs. So it doesn't look like euthanasing the infirm was necessarily a widesporead practice, though of course there are differences between euthanasing someone elderly and infirm but whom people know, amnd euthanasing a sickly or disabled infant...

5) Many artists of various types have had mental illnesses, and the suggestions are that genes that influence creativity/artistic impressions are either closely linked with genes associated with a high risk of developing certain forms of mental illness, or even that the high-risk genes and the creative-influencing genes may be one and the same.

Sorry again and I apologise for the verbose post!

Dannette.
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