Friday, October 16, 2009

Fantastic Future Friday: Genetically Modified Humans

Note: I was planning on talking about Alternative Energy today but on page 3 I was only halfway through so I will break up my post on that over the coming week.

The Good, The Bad, and a case for keeping the Ugly

Genetically Modified Humans, Augments, and creatures from “The Island of Dr Moreau” the idea of changing the human Genome has been a sci-fi horror element for over a century. With the mapping of the Human Genome and experiments in Genetically Modified foods (GM) this idea is now a reality.

Brando in "The Island of Dr Moreau"
The Good.

Gene Therapy has the potential to wipe out many Genetic Defects. Tay-Sacs, Cystitis Fibrosis, even Type 1 diabetes all can be potentially eliminated. As our knowledge of the Human Genome grows we can insure no child is born with a genetic disease that limits their life span.

The Bad.

Most of the Sci-fi stories (except “The Island of Dr Moreau”), dealt with Super Humans trying to take over the world and making ordinary humans slaves or holding them in contempt.

In reality for all of our innovations, human planning has yet to beat nature at solving a problem. Even thousands of scientists working together towards a common goal can’t compete with nature blindly trying billions of combinations.

Even some people with supposed “defective genes” make a mockery of so called normal people, Asperger’s Syndrome gives the sufferer incredible mathematical skills that can make a major universities entire math department spend a year figuring out the mathematical formula that they made up in two minutes to solve a problem on a physics test. The downside is they can’t learn basic social skills or read peoples expressions at the level that a 6-month-old child can.

Society rejects these people until they need them for large problems then will put up with their inability to follow the rules.

In the quest for the ultimate human who would purposely make someone they know is going to be an asshole all their life?

Other defects include OCD, like a person who will write several pages a day and post them on a cheap Blogger account for $0.40 a month while ignoring the rest of his life with only the satisfaction that he knows at least a couple people are amused.

A case for keeping the Ugly.

Blue Oyster Cult in their song without cowbells sang, “History shows us time and again, how nature destroys the folly of man.” If we streamline the human genome by picking only the traits that we think are valuable then we make ourselves more vulnerable to viruses that won’t have to adapt to billions of variations in the human genome and what should be small viral outbreaks would turn to pandemics killing millions.

We need to carefully study if getting rid of a “defect” is worth narrowing the genetic pool. Heart disease, diabetes, and other genetic traits need to be carefully studied to see if it is better to get rid of the gene and the genetic diversity it supplies or manage the problem though a life long treatment, like specialized diet and exercise.

Needless to say limiting the genetic pool for superficial cosmetic reasons is not worth the risk.

The Bright side.

With the power to end severe genetic defects we can study the role of individual genes in an individual and determine which ones are worth narrowing the human gene pool for, and which ones can be treated with a specially tailored life style that starts when they are infants.

If used with utmost caution Genetic Engineering of Humans can lead to a Fantastic Future.

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