By ANDY ANDREWS Los Alamos World Futures Institute
In Part Two of this series we ended by asking what are our moral and ethical principles that constitute our integrity and where do we get them.
If humanity was constant, the answer might be constant. But we are involved in a world of accelerating evolution. While some of the evolving “things” are easy to comprehend and embrace, others are not. Others are not!
For example, James Watson and Francis Crick first identified the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953, almost 200,000 years after anatomically modern humans.
In 1990, 37 years later, a publicly funded project began to determine the DNA coding of the human genome, the genetic material in a human cell.
Every human has 23 pairs of chromosomes, with each pair controlling some aspect of the human machine itself. The effort resulted in publication of the “final” sequence mapping of the genome on April 14, 2003, two years before the target date. With the decoding of the human genome, several tests have become available. Most of us are familiar with DNA identification. The term is very common in both police fiction and law enforcement reality.
The human genome has somewhere between 20 and 25 thousand genes, making us each unique unless we are an identical twin. So, with 13 years to process a person’s DNA, we can absolutely, positively, without a doubt identify the owner from some DNA evidence. Of course, it can be done much more quickly, if not instantly as seen on TV, because the science and technology has continued to grow and evolve. We know what we are looking for, so we only need to examine the characteristics of some of the DNA.
Per the United Sates National Institute of Health, genetic testing is available for over 2,000 medical conditions. The tests include diagnostic, predictive and pre-symptomatic genetic testing, carrier testing, prenatal testing, pre-implantation genetic testing, newborn screening, pharmacogenomics and research genetic testing.
A major observation is that it encompasses human vulnerabilities because of genetic weakness. Do your genes make you more susceptible to a specific malady(ies)?
Before decoding the human genome was started, clustered DNA repeats were discovered in bacteria. This eventually became known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats or CRISPR. Then scientists used genes that can infect the cells of the plant or animal of interest and develop carriers that can infiltrate the target and alter its DNA.
Does this sound like a computer worm? While CRISPR can be used to fight human diseases like sickle cell anemia, it may also have a down side.
He Jiankui, a Chinese biophysicist, announced in November 2018 that he had created the first genetically edited human babies. The identical twins were started with in vitro fertilization using CRISPR/Cas9 to edit or mutate the gene that makes you susceptible to HIV-1, the human immunodeficiency virus. The girls were born with immunity to HIV-1.
In short, gene editing had made the world safer for them and they would not pass the vulnerable gene to their successors. For Jiankui the result was different. He was suspended from all research activities by the Chinese government on November 29, 2018 and on January 21, 2019 he was fired by the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China. But he also made the Time top 100 list for 2019.
Jiankui’s experiment was widely seen by many as unethical and potentially dangerous. It signals the emergent knowledge and technology to alter species, ecosystems, and PEOPLE.
CRISPR has been used to alter tomatoes, making harvesting easier and perhaps making food production for the growing population more doable. But what about people?
A few of the thousands of the genetic tests available today include African iron overload, muscular dystrophy, breast and prostate cancer, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and sickle cell anemia. Can we do genetic mutating in some instances, of the associate “mutant” genes to correct the DNA and prevent the diseases; or do we control the population of human carriers to make them disappear from humanity?
We could make genetic testing part of the marriage license process to prohibit procreation by genetically unacceptable partners. Or we could require that all procreation be done by external fertilization as Jianhui did. Or we could do pre-implantation genetic diagnostics on human embryos and destroy those that are defective. Or we could do prenatal diagnosis that has 99.4 percent accuracy and abort those that are defective. Or we could allow only births of blonde, blue eyed children. The technology is evolving to permit the genetic modification of the human species – humanity.
One can argue that we have a long time to explore the issue and we can start later. After all, it took over 200,000 years to first recognize that there was a DNA code that permitted the fabrication and operation of human machines – make that beings. But in less than 40 years, genetic testing was available. And by 2003, we had the genetic “computer” code identified. Further, today the knowledge of humanity is doubling every 12 to 13 months.
The possibilities for manipulation of the human genome are accelerating, suggesting that we can self-evolve ourselves. While this may be good, it is affected by the decisions we make collectively and individually. Is it affected by our changing and evolving integrity – our moral and ethical principles?
Till next time….
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