Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Future Is Now, and It Starts in the UK

These suckers are getting edited in the UK in human cells.
The UK just recently started allowing gene therapy in order for their embryos to have edited mitochondria DNA.  While this doesn't directly change the human genome contained within the patient treated on, naysayers to the treatment believes it to be unethical due to the fact that it is performed on non-consenting individuals.  Also, this is one of the first treatments that edit part of the human cell that can be passed on to the next generation.  This raises many ethical questions related to genetics that we may have to face in the near future.

The first considerations of genetic therapies arose in 1972, when the first understandings of the human genome was being illuminated.  For reference, Watson and Crick discovered the morphology of the DNA molecule in 1953, so these were the pioneering days of the genome.  However, these questions asked in 1972 are still around today: Should we make edits to our genome so that the edits can be passed on?

On the one hand, these edits won't cause any harm to anyone.  In fact, they'll most likely change lives for the better once they're in place.  Humanity has been adapting to its environment in many ways without actual genomic evolution in ways such as building shelters and producing agriculture.  Now, we can actually evolve nearly instantly.  On an individual level, we can alter our genome to become more fit.  In a hypothetical sense, this is the next step that humanity should take in order to better its species.

On the other hand, however, this would lead to evolution being a purchasable product.  If the richer people could afford to alter their children's genome, the richer would not only have an inheritance advantage, but also a genetic advantage as well.  The idea of the American Dream would be all but crushed, since people would become genetically superior in an objective sense.  It would be possible for the elite to modify their children to become perfect specimens of humans.  Allergies, certain illnesses and other unwanted features could be permenantly removed from a family line, giving those families advantage upon advantage over the working class.

Is our society ready to have genetic alterations passed on to its offspring?  Is this step in the UK a step towards a utopia or a distopia?  These questions are coming close to getting an answer, and perhaps we may even get one in this lifetime.

-Ethan Doiron-LaRue (A-1)

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article. Though it is my understanding that these treatments will originally function as type of therapy of sorts for individuals who possess damaged mitochondrial DNA, and who face the risk of passing on potentially harmful diseases onto their offspring, it will be interesting to see how these treatments will developed in the future. Very fascinating to think of the day when we might have the ability to "custom-build" our future generation!

    -Hilary Mello