Nearly every day we are inundated with new genetic discoveries. Scientists can now pinpoint many specific genes including being lean, living a long life, improved self-healing, thrill seeking behavior, and having an improved memory among many other incredible traits. Many believe that these genes can be manipulated in ordinary humans, in effect creating Super-Mutants.
Isaac Asimov, the famous thinker and sci-fi writer wrote, “The advance of genetic engineering makes it quite conceivable that we will begin to design our own evolutionary progress.”
The options are nearly limitless. Theoretically, if a gene exists in another species, it can be brought over to a human cell. Imagine some of the incredible traits of the animal kingdom that humans miss out on- night vision, amazing agility, or the ability to breath underwater. The precedence for these types of radical changes is already in place. Experimental mice, for example, were successfully given the human ability to see in color. If animals can be engineered to have human traits, then humans can certainly be mutated to have desirable animal traits.
Recently, a National Human Genome Research Institute team reported a mutation in a gene that codes for a muscle protein known as myostatin which can increase muscle mass and enhance racing performance in whippets. Some wonder if human athletes could benefit from having a gene or two artificially mutated to give them a little extra strength and speed.
It is even thought possible to so drastically alter human genomes that a type of superhuman species could emerge. The fear with germline engineering is that since it is inheritable, offspring and all succeeding generations would carry the modified traits. This is one reason why this type of engineering is currently banned- it could lead to irreversible alteration of the entire human species.
Ethics, not scientific limitations, is the real brick wall. Most scientists believe manipulating genes in order to make an individual healthy is a noble and worthwhile pursuit. Some are against even that notion, arguing that historically amazing individuals have sometimes been plagued by genetic mental and physical disorders, which inadvertently shaped the greatness of their lives. Should we rob the human race of character shaping frailty? Very few scientists would dare to publicly endorse the idea of using genetic engineering to make a normal, healthy individuals somehow superior to the rest of the human race.
“The push to redesign human beings, animals and plants to meet the commercial goals of a limited number of individuals is fundamentally at odds with the principle of respect for nature,”
said Brent Blackwelder, President of Friends of the Earth in his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
However, would it be so bad if the human race was slightly improved? What if a relatively simple procedure could make an individual and his or her offspring more compassionate, intelligent and thoughtful? Currently scientists are using gene therapy in an attempt to wipe out disease, but what if we could save many more lives by wiping out war instead though engineering humans to be less bloodthirsty, hateful and narrow-minded?
After all, Nature isn’t always right. Nature has naturally selected many people to carry the burden of uncomfortable and often lethal genetic disorders. If nature knows best, then shouldn’t we quit trying to “improve” upon nature by “curing” people of genetic conditions we consider inferior? Many say we shouldn’t change human genetics, UNLESS it’s the RIGHT thing to do. Who gets to decide where the line is between righteous endeavor and the corruption of nature? These are the questions facing our generation.
Posted by Rebecca Sato