Friday, March 06, 2015

Eugenics II

Over the past few years technologies have been developed that make editing the human germ line a real possibility. The designer baby is clearly in our headlights. Stephen Hsu has a highly relevant story. A few excerpts from the MIT Technology Review article:

Scientists are developing ways to edit the DNA of tomorrow’s children. Should they stop before it’s too late?


When I visited the lab last June, Church proposed that I speak to a young postdoctoral scientist named Luhan Yang, a Harvard recruit from Beijing who’d been a key player in developing a new, powerful technology for editing DNA called CRISPR-Cas9. With Church, Yang had founded a small company to engineer the genomes of pigs and cattle, sliding in beneficial genes and editing away bad ones.

As I listened to Yang, I waited for a chance to ask my real questions: Can any of this be done to human beings? Can we improve the human gene pool? The position of much of mainstream science has been that such meddling would be unsafe, irresponsible, and even impossible. But Yang didn’t hesitate. Yes, of course, she said. In fact, the Harvard laboratory had a project to determine how it could be achieved. She flipped open her laptop to a PowerPoint slide titled “Germline Editing Meeting.”

One problem is that perfectly defensible strategies like editing out fatal recessive genes coexist with the possibility of engineering superior football players, soldiers, and scientists.

The human race is rapidly acquiring godlike powers in this area as in others. The challenge is to use such powers wisely.