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Playing God, Part 1: Genetics
Genetically Modified Food
Ever since the first agricultural revolution (circa 10,000 BCE) we humans have been altering the genetics of our food through artificial selection. Which is why we have so many variations of corn, beets, lettuce, etc. Nowadays we have real genetic modification, and corporations actually have patents on genomes!
Personally I think it's sort of weird when people buy products that are certified non-GMO. The reason being is that all of our food is genetically modified, whether its through artificial selection, or through the direct altering of genomes. However, I do understand the social issues surrounding corporate ownership of the majority of our food supply. Which is something I've been considering writing about.
My point in this section is that GMOs are not something you should be afraid of. You are what you eat, and at this point its likely that you've consumed thousands of pounds of genetically modified food.
Bill Nye On GMOs
What is a GMO? A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques (i.e., a genetically engineered organism).
New technology is being developed that allows scientists to edit DNA at the most accurate level. Scientists can now change the sequence of "letters" making up the information that is used by cells as a blueprint for new proteins. So essentially we can say goodbye to genetically heritable diseases like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, hemochromatosis and so on. Genetic diseases have caused unimaginable suffering throughout human history, and we've just entered the era in which these horrific conditions can now be fully eradicated!
With CRISPR technology biologists are now able to alter the genome of any organism with exquisite precision and ease. This is where we really have begun to play God. We can alter the genetic information of an embryo. Practically speaking we can remove unwanted heritable diseases. However, if we're playing God we might as well go full tilt. Of course there are ethical hurdles and public debate to be overcome, but, we could be having children who have such a high iq that they are doctors by 12 years old without feeling stressed or rushed. Many people are worried about the slippery eugenic slope towards Nazism, but I think that's a bit of an overestimation of human evil. We can use this power for good, and the kind of good we use it for is limited only by our imagination.
We'll be able to create super crops, that dwindle the production of our current crops. With such efficiency and resistance to drought, pestilence, and storms we could conceivably end world hunger. My biggest problem with this system is that the general public is still hundreds of years behind and don't understand the biological patent industry. People need to consider what could happen if a monopoly on food was held in the hands of a corporation indifferent to the needs of individuals.
We could create custom pets. We already do this with breeding, but the process is much slower. Do you like the intelligence of a border collie, but not too keen on the size? Get a collie shih tzu cross dog. Without having to think about how that would work... Lol.
In terms of antibiotics this CRISPR system seems quite promising. All of our current antibiotics are antiquated and micro-organisms are quickly becoming resistant to them. With gene editing we could create an antibiotic that is specifically designed to target the organisms we want dead, while doing no harm to the human or animal who takes them. There are also some issues in this field of research. What if we accidentally and indirectly create a micro-organism immune to just about every conceivable antibiotic. Boom, end of the world scenario right there. However, don't get too scared because these fields of research can and should be utilized to improve the human condition worldwide, regardless of the possible risks.
Bioluminescence could be added to trees, effectively replacing street lamps. In this way solar power directly utilized through photosynthesis could light our streets at night! At the same time we'd be trapping carbon dioxide given off by traffic, and providing more oxygen.
Another application of genetic modification is customized cellular organelles. Imagine having organelles in your somatic cells that could directly synthesize essential nutrients such as vitamins. Through this, we could solve a lot of our malnutrition problems around the world.
A lot of the applications of genetic modification are a long way off, and that's why I'm writing this article. The more people thinking about the possibilities, the faster we'll have access to real solutions to the many biological problems and limitations we humans face. For example, we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. What if, like vaccinations, we could have a shot which effectively minimizes the damage of an unhealthy diet and reverses obesity or malnutrition? Diabetes could be cured. We could end the obesity epidemic.
Imagine a kind of genetic alteration of our endothelial cells within our veins, which could strengthen them against deterioration with age and poor diet. Heart disease is the number one killer in america, and that could be ended with genetic modification. Studies have already shown that people are more willing to take a shot, drug, or treatment instead of changing their lifestyle. So yes, genetic modification could be easier than convincing people to change the way they live their lives.
116 Year Old Woman
Young americans are now expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Its actually quite horrific that even with our technological advancements, we're screwing up pretty badly as a collective. But that's a topic for my other articles.
Again, our technology might come to the rescue. Scientists have located the protein responsible for aging. Women can say goodbye to the loads of bullshit ads about anti aging creams and simple tricks, because the scientists have found the real simple trick. The one trick to end aging for good, the 60 year olds can look like they're in their mid 20s. My guess is that it will take maybe a decade before this tech goes mainstream.
Degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease could be cured with gene therapy. Possibly even permanently removed from the human gene pool over time. We can say goodbye to the days of grandma telling the same story multiple times in one sitting. Playing God can and will benefit the human species in tremendously monumental ways. However, there are risks, and with any procedure the risks will be taken into account.
Cloning is essentially the process of replicating the genetics of an organism and producing genetically similar populations. We already cloned a sheep named Dolly. However, it did take 434 tries to implant a somatic cell of the sheep to be cloned, into the ovum of another sheep.
Cloning isn't always all about replication. Sometimes it has more to do with practical applications in human healthcare. Imagine you lost a kidney. Unless you want to risk immune system rejection of someone else's kidney, you could have your own cells cloned and grown into your own brand new kidney! This is the field of stem cell research.
Imagine a world where cloning isn't banned or restricted by any countries, and people can just go hog wild and do whatever they want with cloning. First of all, you're probably not going to be seeing a ton of it, because most people can't afford to use cloning. But, we could have wealthy individuals cloning themselves just to have spare parts if they're ever in an accident and need a number of fresh implants. As you can see, there is substantial ethical debate over cloning. But what other discoveries lie ahead in the field of cloning and stem cell research?
What if someone wants to have a clone child? Would we allow them to do that? Is it the public's right to stop someone from raising their own clone child? Is it the person's right to do what they want with their body, their genetic information? And we haven't even reached a consensus over the ethics of abortion. If cloning does reach a threshold of popularity in the public sphere, you can expect heated debate over the ethics of it. We'll likely need a whole new human rights commission for clones and their parents.
This is all my personal opinion and curiosity, none of this is backed by research that I know of at the moment.
In the future I can imagine gene therapy being utilized in the treatment of various neurological conditions. I wonder if the more evil parts of human nature could be removed from our gene pool. If perhaps irrational conformity and greed could be targeted at the genetic level, we could overcome them and move on to greater things. Many of the negative aspects of our human nature could be changed or even removed through this process similar to eugenics. Unlike the Nazi perversion, this would be entirely voluntary.
Sometimes I wonder if people will put up a fight against this revolution in genome science. Imagine if you grew up as a genetic inferior, your parents were too poor to give you the gene therapies required to compete with your classmates. It would be humiliating and difficult without a doubt. But I wonder how serious of an issue that really is, because even today, we have short kids who can't compete with tall kids. We have children with a lower IQ who can't compete with the higher IQ kids. Genetic diversity may be a very good thing after all but this is an incredibly complicated subject that is hard to cover in just one article.