Stewart Gault

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Human genetic engineering: Is there any reason why we shouldn't aim to improve ourselves genetically?

what are your views on this?

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    May 24 2012: .
    The most simple and non-controversial way to improve your offspring's genetic make-up, is to marry with someone from another race and make babies. This promotes heterosis and heterozygous vigor. The offspring will be less susceptible to diseases and generally be (perceived to be) more beautiful.

    You don't need a lab to do this. The bedroom suffices.
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      May 28 2012: the problems with the implications are there are a lot of "coulds" and "mights" and "what ifs", whereas in everything I've read about GE the researchers are all saying yes this WOULD help such and such
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          May 28 2012: you've answered your own fears about GE, it's not like we're going to develop the tech then just unleash it on the world, it goes through rigorous testing where scientists do there best to cover any angle, that's why drugs etc spend years in testing after being developed, this is why the consequences argument to me fails in its own sense, the stuffs tested first, and we learn from the past
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          May 28 2012: ah now in that sense it's the hardest to test, you're absolutely right, and that's where we need creative testing methods, which I'll concede don't exist at the moment, maybe someday (this is very adventurous I know) we might make a super computer which can translate all of the laws of biology etc into it and then code into the genome and we can test if it works by whether or not the computer simulates human development or not, so it could then be used to mathematically calculate exactly what would happen if you altered a gene, complete sci-fi fantasy thing there, but it's not entirely beyond us if we've got a computer to simulate the big bang
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        May 30 2012: Not if the information was owned by people without a conscience. "Brave New World" ??
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    May 27 2012: H1N1 modified itself through natural selection, just as we and every other living thing does. Yes, Jenner and Salk both made vaccines( and killed a FEW in the process) but they were NOT creating new organisms and new vectors, which is what the biotech industry IS doing... with very little thought. As to the GE food crops and the hunger problem....The hunger problem is NOT one of production, it IS a problem of distribution. What happens when that super plant gets loose form it's intended habitat (as GE soy and corn are doing now in the US) and we have only one cultivar of each because of cross breeding?... I'm just saying THINK! I'm also saying "Because we can" does NOT equal "It's a good idea"
  • May 23 2012: I love us just the way we are.
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      May 23 2012: What about the medical prospects it could have? Although it sounds a little advanced at the moment imagine being able to recode the gene for production of white blood cells so that they become enhanced and could potentially dispose of HIV, or give them traits which allow them to kill cancer cells more efficiently
      • May 23 2012: Let's invert the medical system. Maybe we could call it the goodhealth system.
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          May 23 2012: I don't see how that inverts the medical system
      • May 23 2012: Fighting against negative is one choice.
      • May 24 2012: The choices one has are always infinite. Another choice is dancing with positive. In future interaction I prefer to express what I express and to read what you express without using the manipulative device of questioning. Thank you in advance for respecting my communication choice. My respects to you.
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    Jun 3 2012: If you are talking about gene therapy techniques then I think there is nothing wrong with it. By that I mean, local genetic tweaking in adults. I know there is research in this but I don't know much about it.

    As regards to genetically altering our children to be smarter, stronger, longer lived, ect, there are moral issues. As with any technology there are risks. If you are an adult you can choose to take those risks. However, a genetically engineered embryo does not get to choose. Regardless of whether you think we are "playing god" or whether we have the understanding to do this responsibly, we can't avoid the fact that we are denying the choice to the recipient of the genetic engineering. That can be seen as a violation of basic rights.

    Its a bit of a catch 22, by the time and individual is considered mature enough to decide to take the risk, the genes he/she wishes to alter have already done their work over the course of development into adulthood.

    Do parents have the right to force this risk on their children in hope of some benefit, when the children will have to live with it for the rest of their lives?
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      Jun 3 2012: No the whole live longer be stronger thing isn't exactly what I'm on about I'm thinking medical wise. Like I think I said earlier about potentially developing an enzyme which could be injected into the uterus, locates the embryo, scan the chromosomes for mutations etc and then digests certain parts and recodes them, now that's a very very far in the future sort of idea and I can't see anything wrong with it because it hasn't altered normal DNA just the faulty DNA
  • May 30 2012: A reason not to would be the problems with defining what procedure would be beneficial. For example, there may come a day when we are able to modify ourselves to a certain skin color or breast size with much more effective methods than plastic surgery. And what happened the last time we started judging such traits to be better or worse? What will happen if we do it again?
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      May 30 2012: well if you live in a very sunny country it's a vast improvement if you've darker skin and then vice versa, and the problem with changing skin colour at a stage beyond the embryo would be extremely hard because if you changed the DNA of one skin cell only its daughter cells will contain the same genetic info and won't change your entire body colour, and there is no say master control cell to be changed so skins hard, I'd say if you like being tan get a spray tan
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    May 29 2012: It doesn't matter whether there's any reason. What can be done will be done and the result bad and good will provide new opportunities and problems alike.
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    May 27 2012: Actually, you can think of it on the same terms as morality... it's very relative and there is no right opinion--arguably...
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      May 27 2012: I completely agree with everything you've said, the only I'd say that we know is morally right about it is to cure disease and potentially mutations, then everything else kind of enters the grey area of morality. Just on a side not in 1952 I think a Russian scientist was convinced beyond all belief that by 1970 odd we'd all be cyborgs, just fitting it in
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    May 27 2012: I personally don't think there is anything wrong with it. It's just like all fields of science and engineering--if it's taken too far, it becomes a bit of a problem. Mainly, I think the issue is really fear. When you really think about it, most people fear loss of control and a calamity brought forth by "conspiracy theories" when it comes to GE. Much good can come of GE if the right people are chosen to research. . . the question is, how do you pick the "right person" for the job? Morality really slams this question and that's a whole other debate--we'd be getting into religion, education, politics, you name it!
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    May 27 2012: Stewart, It's not fear of the un-known... There's a LONG history of the Law of Unintended Consequences in medicine and in genetics, The "margarine is Good for you" theory proven WRONG over 45 years later. The Thalidomide babies in the 50's and 60's, the new revelations of just how toxic the mercury fulminate is in vaccines, The revelations coming out now about the effects of BPA in food packaging (now BANNED in the EU), the revelations the the mercury in amalgam fillings DOES leach out and IS toxic (after +100 years of use), in mechanical engineering the 1995 Ford Explorer (AKA exploder) the Ford Pinto .... I truly could go on for DAYS on end. The big problem with GE is that we are messing with our own genetic structure, and the genetic structure of our food and, infections both directly and indirectly... All it takes is ONE super-bug... imagine a MERSA bug that can transmit via droplet-spray (sneezing or coughing) and has a 72 hour incubation period.... What I'm really saying is that looking (impartially) at the history of medicine I believe that these folks are just smart enough to do us ALL in. And, looking at that history, this is not an un-reasonable position.
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      May 27 2012: You're totally right in the sense that yea we could kill everyone with this stuff, sure look at the H5N1 studies big controversy cause they mutated it affect humans. So your biggest is medicine cocking this up and killing the planet, firstly on a historical side, when Jenner first introduced inoculation of smallpox, he unfortunately killed a few people in the process as antiseptics and disinfectants hadn't been invented or understood yet. Also the way bacteria and viruses are evolving to overcome our drugs means that genetic engineering is looking like the only way to keep humans ahead in the microscopic arms race. Also we don't just know the genome, we know, I think, almost what every gene does, so changing something you know logically shouldn't cause something else to happen, for example say, just cause I am, that they made the ginger gene dominant in you so you grew ginger hair, it won't suddenly cause the rest of you to change or create new chemicals in the body. But on the flip side, I can imagine if you changed the genome for muscle size and strength we'd discover that the body ended up respiring too quickly and required too much food to sustain itself and end up killing us. So we've to use logic here. GE crops will solve world hunger it's pretty much fact, they've got potatoes and corns and all sorts of foods to produce higher yields, produce multiple seeds, fertilize themselves, survive in parched landscapes and to withstand extreme heat.
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    May 27 2012: This question is age old ... science vs religion. Are the gains worth the possible consequences? As Luke Monahan pointed out the potential for abuse is always present. The most memorable event in "desgining people" goes to Hitler who wanted a master race.

    I am really against this, however, I am a realist ... Research will continue and experiments will continue. GE is most likely to become common place years from now. The quest for life eternal is alive and well. The chant is to improve or correct genetic "errors". That allows reserarch to continue for GE of choice ... 6"5, blond, blue eyed, male, etc ... Brave New World by Huxley.

    All the best. Bob
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    May 26 2012: For me, the answer is a resounding "YES, there are LOTS of reasons to not use GE as self improvement"! The first and most obvious is the law of un-intended consequences which any honest technician or engineer will acknowledge. It basically states that our understanding of a situation is incomplete, as such there WILL BE an un-intended consequence (or side effect) to any design change... Hence the need to prototype...Even something as simple as a toaster. With something as incredibly complex as a genome I firmly believe that the un-intended consequence could well be the death of the human race (or a species we depend on... like the bees dying off). Just because we can, doesn't make it a good idea. I would note that the nutrition density in whole brown rice (once considered the only complete food) has decreased by over 50% since 1945 (according to the FDA) just by changing our farming techniques. What are the un-intended consequences of putting fish genes in soy to increase the plants' resistance to Roundup? Or in killing off all mosquitoes, Which are a major source of food for several birds. I'll say it again: Due to the law of un-intended consequences "because we can" does NOT equal "we should"!
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      May 26 2012: The problem there is we won't know what consequences there could be until we try, so the problem here is the fear of the unknown. Also in engineering if your prototype produces a problem you go and fix it and I'm not saying you get s bunch of babies and mess with their DNA to see what happens we'd come up with some sensible control, and you can't close the door on it , just like when Jenner invented inoculation and received widespread criticism for it but in modern day medicine it's one of the most prominent ways of fighting disease, so just because GE is new and sounds scary today doesn't mean it won't be common place in the future, but to get there someone has to take the first steps towards developing it
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    May 24 2012: One reason might be that we have never come to any conscensus about the definition of 'improve'.
    • May 26 2012: When it comes to aesthetical aspects, like eyecolor, that might be true. But resistance to diseases, better muscle development, higher intelligence... I don't think those couldn't be defined as 'improvements'.
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        May 26 2012: Agreed, also I think there should be a focus on human GE geared towards helping us live in space to somehow counteract some of the effects of low gravity such as calcium deficiency etc. I think I remember watching something where NASA had developed a bacteria that reflected UV rays and I think they were thinking of putting these bacteria into skin cells of astronauts.
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        Jun 21 2012: hi Mark! I can tell that this is something near to your heart. Could you ponder for a moment the difference between what you would consider a personal improvement and what your girlfriend/ sife would consider for you. Men might want a penis enlargment but would their wife want the same thing? On this small scale we begin to see how our definitions differ
  • May 24 2012: Imagine if a place like North Korea has the technology and knowledge to genetically predispose it's citizens to obedience and subservience...

    Imagine if part of our western culture was to modify the genetics of children to make them better students by having a "calm" personality. We already gobble down ritalin like candy...

    GE has as much potential for abuse as it does for the betterment of the human species.
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      May 24 2012: In regards to North Korea, the world leaders will eventually realise they don't have to be tolerant of Kim Jong Un and will most likely forcefully remove him and any other leaders who have committed crimes on humanity. The idea of cosmetic genetic engineering isn't that bad. There will always be laws implemented to control the extent of what you can alter e.g. personality traits should never be altered. The main focus of genetic engineering should be to cure genetic diseases. The height of which would be genetic engineering of reproductive cells so that diseases can not be passed on to the offspring of people with say haemophilia as an example. An idea I had was the development of an enzyme which could trace out faults in DNA and recode them potentially in the embryo stage of development, this could prevent extra limbs growing, or prevent things such as Down's syndrome as it's my only example of a condition involving an extra chromosome
      • May 25 2012: My understanding is that one reason North Korea is tolerated is because they have a missile arsenal which they intend to use to destroy the capital city of South Korea, Seoul, if they are invaded/attacked. Another reason being that while their economy cannot sustain any kind of war, they do have a massive standing army with which to resist invasion. Another reason being that North Koreans are taught culturally to love and follow Kim Jong Un. An invasion force would not be met with a hero's welcome.

        I don't believe the North Korean situation is ever going to be resolved as simply as you make it sound.

        Besides, I was using NK as an example, it's not the only place in the world which is likely to abuse a technology like this.

        It doesn't even need to be a governmental power, just imagine what might be possible with black market GE.
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    May 24 2012: I can of course see the uses in treating genetic medical conditions. You can be sure however that it will eventually go the way of cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgeons used to repair peoples damaged appearance now they augment peoples unsatisfactory appearance. They could re-activate the DNA sequences that used to turn our ears into gills when we were fish. Olympics here I come!
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    May 24 2012: I believe such a thing would be a highly personal choice and cannot be generalized easily. Of course some people will shun genetic modification just like many will probably shun cybernetic enhancement. After all people make mistakes and if there is one place I do NOT want to have a mistake its with my genes.

    Of course people who with debilitating mental or physical conditions such as myself will opt for it. I imagine this is going to be a very controversial subject in the near future.