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The First GM Human Embryo Could Dramatically Alter the Future

Human_embryo “The advance of genetic engineering makes it quite conceivable that we will begin to design our own evolutionary progress.”

~Isaac Asimov, famous thinker and sci-fi writer

Cornell University researchers in New York revealed that they had produced what is believed to be the world’s first genetically altered human embryo—an ironic twist considering all the criticism the US has heaped on South Korea over the past several years for going “too far” with its genetic research programs. The Cornell team, led by Nikica Zaninovic, used a virus to add a green fluorescent protein gene, to a human embryo left over from an in vitro fertilization procedure. The research was presented at a meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine last year, but details have emerged only after new controversy has emerged over the ethics and science of genetically modifying humans.

Zaninovic has pointed out that in order to be sure that the new gene had been inserted and the embryo had been genetically modified, scientists would ideally want to keep growing the embryo and carry out further tests. However, the Cornell team did not get permission to keep the embryo alive. The GM embryos created could theoretically have become the world’s first genetically altered man or woman, but it was destroyed after five days.

British regulators form the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), have warned that such controversial experiments cause “large ethical and public interest issues”.

Much of the debate stems from the fact that the effects of genetically altering an embryo would be generational and permanent. In other words, if we create a mutant baby and it grows up to have children of it’s own—they’ll all be mutant gene carriers too. Genes injected into embryos and reproductive cells, such as sperm, affect every cells in the body and would be passed on to future generations. Critics say current humans don’t have the right to tamper with the gene pool of future generations.

On the other hand, proponents of such technology say that this science could potentially erase diseases such as cystic fibrosis, hemophilia and even cancer. In theory, any “good” gene could be added to embryos to offset any “bad” genes they are currently carrying. That could potentially mean the difference between life and death for many children.

John Harris, the Sir David Alliance Professor of Bioethics at Manchester University, takes it a step further. He believes that as parents, citizens, and scientists, we are morally obliged to do whatever we can genetically to make life better and longer for our children and ourselves. Society currently devotes so much energy and resources towards saving lives, which, in reality, is simply postponing death, he notes. If it is right to save life, Harris reasons, then it should also be right to postpone death by stemming the flow of diseases that carry us to the grave.

For Harris, having the ability to improve our species lot in life but refusing to do so, makes little sense. He has a difficult time understanding why some people are so insistent that we shouldn’t try to improve upon human evolution.

“Can you imagine our ape ancestors getting together and saying, ‘this is pretty good, guys. Let’s stop it right here!’. That’s the equivalent of what people say today.”

Ethicists, however, warn that genetically modifying embryos will lead to designer babies preloaded with socially desirable traits involving height, intelligence and coloring.

Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, warns, “This is the first step on the road that will lead to the nightmare of designer babies and a new eugenics.”

Harris, however, doesn’t support that argument. He says it’s not about “beauty” it’s about health, and what parent wouldn’t want a healthy child, he asks.

“Certainly, sometimes we want competitive advantage [for our children], but for the enhancements I talk about, the competitive advantage is not the prime motive. I didn’t give my son a good diet in the hope that others eat a bad diet and die prematurely. I’m happy if everyone has a good diet. The moral imperative should be that enhancements are generally available because they are good for everyone.”

The only other route to equality, he says, is to level down so that everyone is as uneducated, unhealthy and unenhanced as the lowest in society – which would be much more unethical in his opinion. Even though we can’t offer a liver transplant to all who need them, he says, we still carry them out for the lucky few. “Much better to try to raise the baseline, even if some are left behind.”

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill in currently under consideration in Britain will likely make it legal to create GM embryos in that country, but only for research—implantation in the womb will still be banned—at least for now. However, ethicists believe that the legislation could easily be relaxed even further in the future.

People who believe that genetically modified humans is something way into the future might want to consider that many experts are worried that some forms of it are already happening in the sports world.

Faster, bigger, better, stronger—in theory, the single most effective way to radically alter your physical capacities is to manipulate your genes. Athletes are beginning to take notice. Now that we’ve mapped out the human genome and identified exactly which genes make you buff, tough and rough—experts are concerned about the future of genetic doping.

Gene doping could spawn athletes capable of out-running, out-jumping and out-cycling even the world’s greatest champions. However, researchers at the University of Florida are attempting to prevent that from happening by detecting the first cases of gene doping in professional athletes before the practice becomes mainstream.

Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), responsible for monitoring the conduct of athletes, is working with investigators around the globe to develop testing to identify competitors who have injected themselves with genetic material that is capable of enhancing muscle mass or heightening endurance.

“If an athlete injects himself in the muscle with DNA, would we be able to detect that?” asked one of France’s leading gene therapy researchers, Philippe Moullier, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Gene Therapy Laboratory at the Universite de Nantes in France.

Right now, he says the answer is clearly “no”. But that may soon change. The UF scientists are among several groups collaborating with national and global anti-doping organizations to develop a test that can detect evidence of “doped” DNA.

“WADA has had a research program in place for some years now, to try to develop tests for gene-based doping,” said Theodore Friedmann, M.D., head of the agency’s panel on genetic doping and director of the gene therapy program at the University of California, San Diego.

Nearly every day now 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.

Theoretically, options are nearly limitless. Even a gene that exists in another species could be brought over to a human cell. Imagine some of the incredible traits of the animal kingdom that some humans don’t possess such as 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.

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 were slightly improved? What if a relatively simple procedure could make an individual and his or her offspring resistant to cancer? 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

Related Galaxy posts:

Can Humans Live to 1,000? Some Experts Claim We Can — Others Want to Prevent That
The "Mickey Mouse" Experiment -Mice with Human Eyes
Enhancing Evolution: Do Humans have a Moral and Ethical Duty to Improve the Human Race?
Are We Close to Creating Super-Mutant Humans?
The Story of a Biologist & the Extension of the Human Life Span
Scientists Bio-engineer a Virus that Destroys Cancer Cells
"Mind Children": Transhumanism & the Search For Genetic Perfection

Sources & Related Stories:
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=000E7ACE-5686-10CF-94EB83414B7F0000
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article3908516.ece
http://www.andhranews.net/Health/2008/May/11-Scientists-create-first-44379.asp
http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8480.html

Comments

we humans need all the help we can get to survive the coming years.. and does anyone believe we can colonize space without genetic changes??

Yes. Haven't you seen Spaceballs? What we need to do is start canning air so we can breath in space. Merchandising!

I agree with J Howard. Who's to say that coming to the point where we can self-direct our evolution isn't a natural part of evolution (or God's plan if that's your persuasion)? The future holds many challenges for our species. If we can find safe ways to enhance human life, then I see no moral reason not to. In fact, it would be amoral not to, in my humble opinion.

Evolution or " co - creation " is still in flux as humans enter further into the 21st century, mutations & adaptations are going to happen, they've likely been happening on a quantum level ever since man 1st gave up the hunter - gatherer lifestyle & settled the 1st towns & cities. If we start seriously exploring & colonizing space it's going to keep on happening so humans can adapt. Read Larry Niven's " Known Space " stories where humans have adapted to high gravity & other changes in environment.

While the article talks about the genetic engineering of an embryo the picture is of a fetus, which is a little misleading and sensationalist...

I am amazed at the hubris that spawned this new revelation of inhumanity and the almost cavalier comments that should be nothing less than total disgust. King Science is trumping sound moral judgement.

We are on a accelerating downward spiral, for we have bought the big lie (evolution as a universal truth) for far too long. "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil." Isaiah 5:20

God help us!

Let's reach for the stars. If we fall back to Earth, so what.

God save us from the bible thumping troglodytes, Michael.
Any reasoning person understands that detrimental random changes have occured in various humans over many millenia causing generational major suffering to millions of descendants.
Well researched advances that can remove that suffering should be authorised but with oversight by an international panel following agreed guidelines. We have all seen what greedy companies just seeking profit can do to whole of mankind.
Thank you for the post Rebecca. It was very well written and good value.

I wonder Rizzio, with comments such as yours. What are you doing visiting a purely scientific blog? Do you only want to create controversy?

Placing restrictions on genetic engineering is OK to me, but not allowing it altogether is just plain stupid. Epidemics like cancer or AIDS may be cured through genetic engineering.

I really cannot fathom the logic of people who oppose genetic engineering, they've watched to many horror movies maybe and think that genetically engineering babies is going to lead to some apocalypse. What's wrong with wanting the next generation to be better than the first? What would be so bad about making future humans smarter, stronger, more resistant to disease than they are right now? It'll happen one day and frankly I would rather it happen sooner than later.

All this talk about ethics is holding back the potential of man. I could understand if they were trying to do experiments on living people but they're doing it on a pile of goo that could grow into a human. One day we'll get past the judeo christian ethic that genetic engineering alters god's plan. One day, hopefully soon, we'll realize as a species that there is no god and it's just us down here. And when we shed that, we can actually work towards making this a better world.

How quickly we forget that to err is human and we will inevitably and hap hazzardly end up creating a disease or a mutation that wiil wipe the entire race off the face of the planet. Because we can make a nuclear bomb is not a reason to make one!! How many accidents have we had over that issue (Chernoybl, three mile island, Hiroshima need I go on) What are you thinking now "Oh we wouldnt do that!" We have and we will. Are we so stupid we can't learn from our past mistakes? This is Pandora's Box and you fools will ignore that and go right ahead and kill us all!! Idiots!

Mr. Harris tells us:
"If it is right to save life ...then it should also be right to postpone death by stemming the flow of diseases that carry us to the grave."

Ironic, coming from a man who holds the following views, from the "Times on Line":

"abortion and euthanasia are both fine, desirable even; parents should be allowed to create designer or cloned babies; there's nothing wrong with a drug-fuelled Olympics; scientists and medics should strive to make us immortal, even on a crowded planet; our bodies should be routinely plundered after death for organs, even if the dead and bereaved do not wish it; it is morally justified to compel people to participate in scientific trials, just as we compel them to do jury service."
May God have mercy on his soul.

Mr. Harris tells us:
"If it is right to save life ...then it should also be right to postpone death by stemming the flow of diseases that carry us to the grave."

Ironic, coming from a man who holds the following views, from the "Times on Line":

"abortion and euthanasia are both fine, desirable even; parents should be allowed to create designer or cloned babies; there's nothing wrong with a drug-fuelled Olympics; scientists and medics should strive to make us immortal, even on a crowded planet; our bodies should be routinely plundered after death for organs, even if the dead and bereaved do not wish it; it is morally justified to compel people to participate in scientific trials, just as we compel them to do jury service."
May God have mercy on his soul.

(linkback) Worry or Relax? The First GM Human Embryo Could Dramatically Alter the Future [VOTE] - http://www.pikk.com/c92dd

Perry, the logic I cannot fathom is near-sighted people who forget the abundance of GM failures. Now we want to continue these "successes" on humans? Then again, some may have a different standard of what success is. If success means a child that is immune to cancer, but dies if it gets a bug bite, let's "alter the future."

Genetic engineering could be thought of as a tool. There is no inherit good or evil (if you want to see it as black and white). It's how we use it. It's our choice.

Isn't this more the "end of evolution"? The problem with designer babies is that we will notice a "mistake" and correct it -- but it's precisely those mistakes that have gotten us where we are today.

Just as some feel this practice is unethical or "evil", I think it's equally unethical not to pursue this field to its fullest possible extent.

On a lighter note, from a purely technical standpoint, would genetically altered humans still be "human" by definition?

Right.. let's make a glow-in-the-dark human, so that the (unfortunately rampant) under-developed racists have another kind of human to fear and hate (The new humans will join the blacks, chinese, jews, arabs, etc. in being hated - A great way to start your life..!).

But humor aside, I think self improvement and GM is part of what this universe has in store for us. Nothing and no one can and will stop this, it's inevitable. All you can do, if you currently oppose this, is try (and maybe succeed) to delay it for a short while.

This is absolutely absurd. I am not religious and do not care about any of the holier-than-thou moral implications that any mention of God automatically brings to the table. I care about the safety and well-being of everyday people. Despite science's advances in recent years, we still really do not know all that much about how subtle chemical pathways affect some of the body's more important systems. Most medicines we now have are relatively crude and laden with side effects. They are the equivalent of trying to make political assassinations with atom bombs. This Cornell scientist has not broken some new ground. He is a selfish, petulant little bitch trying to get his name on something, anything that will make people remember his otherwise unremarkable life. How is that he can be certain these experiments might not spin off a viable virus from the altered embryonic host, or create a creature whose only conscious experience will be the excruciating pain of a condition nature itself could not fathom or allow in the course of natural mutation. These people disgust me. It is too soon for this. Genetically modified humans are not inherently wrong, it is wrong that we go forward blindly with a child's understanding of our own biological processes. You disgust me Nikica. This is a typical move for Cornell. Anything to overcome its Ivy League penis envy, regardless of the costs. Still a safety school!

If any scientist wants to build people, they'd better be ready to drive them to soccer practice & pay their college tuition. (that should put a brake on things.)

Seriously, it'd be so easy to insert the gene for ultraviolet vision that insects have. The human eye is ready to incorporate new cytochromes. I'd like my child to see in infrared and ultraviolet.

free c++ codes and eBOOKS

http://cplus-programing.blogspot.com/

Wonder if these kind of GM humans will be called the Coordinators and non-modfied humans will be called the Naturals in the near future.

If that is the case, I can't wait until machines such as the ZGMF-X20A Strike Freedom that uses Generation Unsubdued Nuclear Drive Assult Module complex OS is in the works!

Oh don't forget to name this baby if it is a boy, George Glenn so when he grows up, he may bring us the Evidence 01 and start the era of Porductive Location Ally on Nexus Technology.

Let the Destiney Plan begin!

Barbaric animals -- first creating the embryo to kill it, then altering it, then murdering it. This is not "science" but barberic murder. Sick. Perverted. May the baby rest in peace in God's infinite love. May this university and the researchers lose all academic funding and recognition and be given universal disdain for this evil.

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