The Genetic Effects of Radiation by Isaac Asimov is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post Series. The table of Links for this book can be found here. The Machinery of Inheritance - Introduction
There is nothing new under the sun, says the Bible. Nor is the sun itself new, we might add. As long as life has existed on earth, it has been exposed to radiation from the sun, so that life and radiation are old acquaintances and have learned to live together.
We are accustomed to looking upon sunlight as something good, useful, and desirable, and certainly we could not live long without it. The energy of sunlight warms the earth, produces the winds that tend to equalize earth’s temperatures, evaporates the oceans and produces rain and fresh water. Most important of all, it supplies what is needed for green plants to convert carbon dioxide and water into food and oxygen, making it possible for all animal life (including ourselves) to live.
Yet sunlight has its dangers, too. Lizards avoid the direct rays of the noonday sun on the desert, and we ourselves take precautions against sunburn and sunstroke.
The same division into good and bad is to be found in connection with other forms of radiation—forms of which mankind has only recently become aware. Such radiations, produced by radioactivity in the soil and reaching us from outer space, have also been with us from the beginning of time. They are more energetic than sunlight, however, and can do more damage, and because our senses do not detect them, we have not learned to take precautions against them.
To be sure, energetic radiation is present in nature in only very small amounts and is not, therefore, much of a danger. Man, however, has the capacity of imitating nature. Long ago in dim prehistory, for instance, he learned to manufacture a kind of sunlight by setting wood and other fuels on fire. This involved a new kind of good and bad. A whole new technology became possible, on the one hand, and, on the other, the chance of death by burning was also possible. The good in this case far outweighs the evil.
In our own twentieth century, mankind learned to produce energetic radiation in concentrations far surpassing those we usually encounter in nature. Again, a new technology is resulting and again there is the possibility of death.
The balance in this second instance is less certainly in favor of the good over the evil. To shift the balance clearly in favor of the good, it is necessary for mankind to learn as much as possible about the new dangers in order that we might minimize them and most effectively guard against them.
To see the nature of the danger, let us begin by considering living tissue itself—the living tissue that must withstand the radiation and that can be damaged by it.
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This book is part of the public domain. Asimov, Isaac. (October 13, 2017). THE GENETIC EFFECTS OF RADIATION. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/55738/55738-h/55738-h.htm#c2
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