Genetic Modifications in Homo Sapiens

June 1, 2014
By Lady_Teribithea GOLD, LaPorte, Colorado
Lady_Teribithea GOLD, LaPorte, Colorado
14 articles 3 photos 28 comments

One of the things that makes humans unique is our propensity to alter the environment we live in, even on the molecular level. We build huge structures to shelter us from the elements, we find ways to kill off the predators that threaten our existence, and we cultivate other beings to serve as food or clothing. In recent times, we have gone as far as playing with the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of other organisms. Today, we’ve decided to do it again. But this time, instead of plants or animals, we have decided to do it to ourselves. Although it does present some benefits, the inimical effects of genetically modifying our own species should be carefully considered until we have the technology needed to move ahead.
With genetically modifying humans, a whole new argument arises. Sure, we’ve modified animals and plants, but as Sheldon Krimsky points out so eloquently, “In the hundreds of thousands of trials that failed, we simply discarded the results of the unwanted crop or animal.” Do we want to do the same with human beings? Will we be able to simply discard the ensuing human child? Not every trial will be perfect. We will make mistakes, and in this case, it’s possible that those mistakes will have something to say about the matter.
We have mapped out the human genome, but we have a very poor understanding of its function. We have only assigned a function to eighty percent of the sequence. Many sequences are responsible for multiple facets of us as human beings, and our understanding of the genome as a whole is still insufficient. It’s possible that while trying to cut out a threat to the human population, we could destroy something we need. Take schizophrenia, for example. It affects cognition and emotional intelligence, and about one percent of the human population contracts it in their lifetime. Some scientists believe that that very prevalence means that it may actually be connected to advantageous genetic characteristics. This theory is called the ‘social brain hypothesis,’ and it suggests that humans developed the ability to contract schizophrenia in trade for certain abilities. Some of those more advantageous characteristics may include language and empathy. This would make schizophrenia the cost of communication between human beings. By cutting it out of our genome, we could alter the very social dynamic of our species.
A research group from the University of Washington has discovered a way to ‘screen’ the fetal genome in the first few weeks of pregnancy for genetic disease earmarkers. It can, however, also be abused in a way that allows the parents to choose one fetus over another based on genetics alone. Hair color, eye color, physical strength or intelligence could all be tested for. This could create a form of ‘promotional voluntary eugenics’ and start a new technological battle that would eventually involve every member of the human race. Richard Hayes, director of the Center for Genetics and Society, goes as far as calling it a “techno-eugenic rat-race.” Children who weren’t graced with genetic endowments would be born with a handicap, and they would have a greater chance of being left behind in our quickly-evolving world. “Even parents opposed to manipulating their children’s genes would feel compelled to participate in the race, lest their offspring be left behind,” Hayes says. This could lead to a world where every new child born would be genetically modified to some extent. This would radically alter the entire human genome, and we have no way of knowing what kind of negative effects may follow.
From the hazard of failed experiments who are less than human, to the threat of destroying something important because we don’t understand its purpose, to the creation of a superior race of humans, many results of this genetic tampering are pernicious in nature. Without the undeveloped technology that would allow us to understand or counteract all of these side effects, we are likely to do more harm than we do good. Instead of trying to create designer babies with technology that we don’t entirely grasp, we should instead focus on improving that technology and understanding the effects it may have.



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