We all have genes that determine everything from eye color to height, but some of us are born with genetic mutations that lead to ‘superhuman’ abilities.
For years now, scientists have been discussing the possibility of genetically engineering human embryos to artificially create those same results–and soon, we’ll likely have the power to control our own evolution. From choosing sex or hair color, to engineering a child that is immune to disease, it’s all on the table.
But is that necessarily good? Here’s the lowdown on genetic engineering–and why some people think it might be the worst thing to ever happen to mankind.
What Is Genetic Mutation?
According to the National Institutes of Health, “a genetic mutation is a permanent alteration in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene, such that the sequence differs from what is found in most people. Mutations range in size; they can affect anywhere from a single DNA building block (base pair) to a large segment of a chromosome that includes multiple genes.”
Gene mutations can be classified in two ways:
- Hereditary mutations are inherited from a parent and are present throughout a person’s life.
- Acquired mutations occur at some point during a person’s life and are present only in certain cells. These mutations cannot be passed on to the next generation.
Scientists have estimated that every time a human genome replicates itself, there are up to 10 new mutations (that’s trillions of mutations in each person, every single day). Most of them are insignificant, but every now and then, they result in a superhuman ability.
Creating The Ultimate Human
DNA is often referred to as “the building blocks of life”. It contains the biological instructions that make each species unique, and it’s passed from adult organisms to their offspring during reproduction.
Gene editing is the process by which genetic material can be added, removed, or altered anywhere within the chain.
For decades now, scientists have been using gene manipulation to try to grow human organs or as a way to harvest stem cells. And some, quite controversially, have tried to take it even further. In 2007, for example, South Korean researchers altered a cat’s DNA so it would glow in the dark. More recently, scientists have been using a technique referred to as CRISPR to edit genomes of viable human embryos.
Even more troublesome, perhaps, are biohackers–a sort of DIYer biologist. It usually takes place in small (non-university) labs, and all kinds of people get together to practice biology with the aim of enhancing natural human abilities.
What does that mean for the future of the human race? Well, in addition to eliminating many common illnesses and diseases, gene manipulation has the potential to create ‘superhumans’ with strengths such as unbreakable bones or perfect memory.
Gene manipulation isn’t a new thing, but it’s picking up steam in recent years. Soon, scientists will be able to change every cell in the human body–eliminating defective genes, changing existing ones, or even adding new.
There are many objections to the process. One common complaint is that enhancing humans in this way will cause the loss of genetic diversity. Another is that side effects are unknown, and gene manipulation could result in something as serious as cancer or a massive immune response.
Perhaps most frightening is the prospect of governments using mutations to create super soldiers. These individuals would have no need to sleep, be immune to pain, and have unending strength and stamina. And they could just as easily turn against society as fight for it.
What ways can you see gene manipulation going wrong in the future? Do you think it’s a good technology or something to be avoided?