Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Genetic Engineering

As science progresses and we learn more about genetics, we become more capable of manipulating genetic codes.  The human genome has been mapped, and we’re gaining new understandings as to how our genetics influence our lives.  Some people are genetically predisposed to certain kinds of cancers.  Genetic defects lead to lifelong diseases, some fatal, some debilitating.  With time and additional research, scientists hope to devise ways of treating such diseases.
Image courtesy of  Caroline Davis2010/

As we look upon this new frontier, we need to understand where this new frontier might lead us.  It’s one thing to use our existing knowledge to cure existing diseases, but it is another altogether to use that knowledge to engineer humans to circumvent these issues in the first place.  In the film Gattaca, parents can choose which traits should be eliminated from their children.  This includes diseases, but can also include myopia, a propensity for obesity, and other things of that nature.  Parents can select eye and hair color.  Embryos that do not meet the specified requirements are discarded.

Countless people who have revolutionized our world would never have been born in this world.  Is this a valid argument against genetic engineering, or could the case be made that the generations of genetically enhanced people might accomplish even more?  Does that even matter?  Is it unethical despite any positive results that might come from it?  Or is it simply our fear of the unknown that makes us hesitant?  Would it be more unethical to allow people to suffer from debilitating diseases that could have been prevented altogether?

Science fiction has also explored the possibility of splicing human DNA with that of other animals in the interest of enhancing our strength or other physical attributes.  What are the ethical implications of this?  What unforeseen consequences might result?  How would this kind of experimentation change what it means to be human?


  1. These are tough questions, but I lean toward caution. For instance, what if someone predisposed to a certain cancer, could change the odds by avoiding certain foods or environmental hazards? I guess I would worry about the baby that somehow got born with said condition and then was not allowed to live. I think there will always be gray areas. And ...splicing human DNA with other animals? Just seems plain wrong.

  2. Messing with DNA is always going to be dicey, but we've been messing with evolution for a long time. Medical advances mean we are already changing the genes because people who would not have been able to have children are. I think if you can cure a disease then that's a good thing, but splicing human DNA with animal DNA to create something other than human could easily end in disaster. The problem with experiments is they don't always have the expected outcome - breeding in one trait could breed in unseen others like vulnerability to other factors. Then the psychological ramifications are just huge.
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  3. I have so much to say about this, I don't even know where to begin. Long story short...If our reality was different, I wouldn't even exist. People like Stephen Hawking wouldn't have ever been "allowed" to be born. I think we all need to change the way we see suffering...it is sometimes a gift. It has changed me for the better.

  4. Love your post. My Recon Marines science fiction series is based on genetically engineered soldiers.

  5. The challenge with DNA is the long term effect of changing DNA. It might be easy for us to cure disease now, but perhaps that makes the human experience harder in the long run. Perhaps what gave us cancer is a side effect of something that helps our immune system in a current unknown way. Unlikely, but possible.

    I love Deus Ex: Human Revolution, to combine the idea of DNA splicing with augments to improve humanity. Though Shadow Run stated that the more you augment yourself, the more of what makes you human disappears. Futurama also had an episode where Hermes became more of a machine as time passed, losing the sense of who he was.