Migration – A Genetic Benefit

Delving into genetic ancestry it is thought that all Europeans are descendants of Charlemagne – a king from the eighth century who had numerous children, mostly illegitimate ones from his concubines.

It seems we’re not so dissimilar after all – we all carry sequences of DNA that match each other even though we may be from opposing ends of the continent.

This genetic map exists because of the way genes are passed on to subsequent generations. The same substantive genes exist when reproduction takes place, though they may gradually be diluted with the passing of each generation.

Despite this genetic commonality, in-breeding is recognised as being something that is wrong and dangerous. It leads to congenital deformities and genetic defects.

But, for countless years, that is what we have been doing.

The more you and your ancestors have stayed in the one locality, the more likely you are to have been reproducing with somebody who already carries aspects of your genes. It is still in-breeding, albeit slightly more distanced. It inherently carries risks in terms of the genetic make-up of any off-spring.

In contrast, the wider you can take from the genetic pool then the more possibilities you have for genetic enhancement. The more you mix the genetic pot the more outcomes you can generate. It’s like adding a new ingredient to a recipe – get it right and it can be enhancing, even transforming.

That is why global population movements should be encouraged. In the short term, overseas holidays or working abroad; and longer term, migration. These movements contribute enormously to genetic opportunities.

Focusing on the principal driver of change, migration expands the genetic pool. It substantially and structurally increases our genetic possibilities.

And yet, too often, too widely we fail to recognise this. Migrants do not always tend to be greeted with open arms.

We more readily see migratory populations as a burden and nuisance. Incomers take our jobs and threaten our livelihoods; they bring with them cultures and behaviours which are alien and uncomfortable to us; they are a drain on the resources which we have built up for ourselves.

It may be that when it comes to our genes we are instinctively risk averse, preferring familiarity to the uncertainty of the unknown. But it is also true that we generally do not recognise migrant populations as the bearers of genetic gifts. (Admittedly, genetic enhancement is a slow and long term process).

However, non-native populations are a vital human resource that we need to take advantage of.

The key determinant of survival in a species is that it must be adapted to its environment. If that environment changes then that species must adapt accordingly. Humanity’s environment is changing very quickly, not just our natural environment but also the society that we live in – society has in many regards become our natural environment as we have, for the most part, conquered the threats of nature.

As our environment changes we will adopt those adaptations that enable us to survive and prosper. The trouble is that society is changing at a breakneck pace, particularly in terms of technology. The faster that environment changes, the less likely we will be able to make the necessary adaptations in the time required.

That is why we need to call on the full wealth and spectrum of the human resource available to us.

It is a process that we can be slow to embrace.

Migration leading to racial inter-breeding doesn’t happen as a given. In fact, first generation migrants tend to stay together and reproduce within their migrant community. It tends to be second and subsequent generations of migrants that assimilate within an established population to form mixed relationships and reproductions.

In reality, we should be positively encouraging migratory movements, racial mixing and reproductive diversity for the genetic benefits it will offer in terms of ensuring our survival in the face of massive environmental change.

In the future, our efforts to improve our genetic resource base will go even further. Inevitably, one day, in order to drive positive, progressive adaptive change, humanity will seek to tap into the wider genetic resources that are available – plant and animal. We will introduce their genes into our genetic mix to seek to acquire certain advantageous qualities. This will be the next defence mechanism we adopt in our on-going battle with environmental change.