When we can change people to make it better, do we do it?

The dream (or nightmare, depending on who sleep) to improve our own species through genetic engineering is something that we speculating for many years. However, the discovery of the technique known as CRISP (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), based on how bacteria manipulate the DNA of the virus to disable it and so defend them, will allow making it happen much sooner than expected.

A cheap, simple and very precisely, we can use a protein (or Cas9 CPF1), rewrite complete DNA sequences and create humans with certain modified features. The controversy is served: should we do?

Our origin

About 30 million years ago, two tectonic plates, the African, and Indian, separated forming the Great Rift Valley: a huge fault that bisects the east of the African continent. Apart from being an insurmountable natural barrier, its orogénesis drastically changed the climate, since the mountain ranges that formed around it prevented the passage of the rains to the west. Central Africa went from forest to savannah. So arboreal primates, who lived there had a big problem: there were fewer trees in which to live and much ground to move from one another.

Many species are extinct but others found the evolutionary solution: walking upright. It walked on two legs freed the forelimbs of their locomotors function, so they could serve for the next, and perhaps most important, evolutionary step: building tools. About two million years ago, hominids started to produce various utensils, without which the brain would not have begun to develop and grow and, consequently, the human being as it is today had ever existed.

The reasoning is this: without the separation of tectonic plates that led to the emergence of the Great Rift failure, human beings have emerged? Surely not… The evolution had continued, but certainly not, where we are right now. They had been other species, who knows what qualities, but certainly, the man would not be what is today. In this sense, chance, events that have nothing to do with any kind of preplanning have a paramount importance in the genesis of species.

When we can change people to make it better

Do you owe something to human nature?

There is no human nature given forever. Any living organism is subject to the laws of evolution, and man is no exception. From Here to 150,000 years, homo sapiens is very different from what we know now, even if you do not modify artificially. Is a pathetic egocentric to think that the real human being is we Why? Why not other evolutionary phases as neanderthal, habilis or even horrorin tugenensis? Why homo sapiens is the most representative of human nature and not others?

We are the result of a blind evolution and immoral. We have acquired characteristics according to adapt to the diverse ecosystems that our ancestors were found for eons of time. We are born children of survivors, but nothing more. The mere chance was modifying our DNA strands so that the luckier, those who were fortunate enough that these changes would bring them evolutionary advantages, jinxes survive and become extinct.

We are not here by any careful planning or divine design. We are here to have won the award in the macabre roulette natural selection. Our qualities were not chosen to make us beings higher or perfect than the rest and obviously for us the image and likeness of the gods. We were made to survive and reproduce, to spend our genetic information to the next generation, for anything else.

Were we designed to be kind? Why not discover the truth? Why not create beauty? Why not be happy? No. Kindness, honesty, creativity or happiness is side effects of the Darwinian struggle of life, the struggle for life, competition in which only the fittest survive.

So what we owe this human nature? When we talk about change it, many voices are raised against holding that would play God, to change human nature will only lead us to create monsters, the experiment we will go out of hand and have a fatal ending for all. Soon they will resort to the myth of Frankenstein or one of its many modern revisions: Blade Runner, Gattaca or the famous Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It changed man will only lead to the inhuman, unnatural to…

All these objections come from the stupid idea that our present nature is sacred and that everything that is bad apart from it. There is more to take a look at the history of man, or turn on the TV and watch the news, to realize what can our divine-human nature. The history of our wonderful species is full of massacres, genocides, wars … motivated by envy, grudges, vendettas, enormous egos willing to sacrifice thousands of lives by increasing few kilometers extending their territories or by adding a few zeros to the amount of their wealth. Human nature is not at all an example of ethical values.

They are already among us, and we do it and it would be irresponsible not to

Consider women as Hedy Lamarr, a gifted mind in one of the most beautiful actresses in film history. Also today, think of astrophysics Amy Mainzer, the chess player, and Playboy model Charlie Riina; or men like the French neuroscientist Carl Schoonover or biologist Noah Wilson-Rich. They are handsome and very intelligent people who have had to hit the jackpot in the lottery whimsical genes. While we might call accidental posthuman, human beings have had the luck to be born “genetically enhanced” before the advent of genetic engineering.

When we use it, we simply create more individuals like them. It will not, in principle, something very different Is Amy Mainzer an aberration, a monster, a Frankenstein XXI Century. For blessed be Frankenstein if it is so. Safely, we would live in a better world many more like him.

Another reason given against transhumanism is that it was something practiced by the Nazis? For example, eugenics programs were established in Sweden, sterilizing the Lapp population (which was considered inferior) to prevent mix with the native race, trying to keep as pure as a possible Aryan race.

Similarly, the Holocaust also followed (or disguised with) eugenic motivations: exterminate the Jewish race degenerate. So any idea of improving the human species is in the collective imagination identified with Nazism, with Dr. Mengele or, in general, with fascist or totalitarian systems (curiously, not usually speak too much of the deplorable eugenic policies carried out in an as democratic and liberal country like the United States).

This view is erroneous for two main reasons: first, we cannot give as valid the criterion “as did the Nazis and is necessarily bad.” Then we fall into stupid things like saying that “the Nazis breathing, so breathing is bad.” No, surely the Nazis also wanted their grannies and brought them flowers as good grandchildren. Second, no one is talking about racism or ethnic groups exterminating or sterilizing or, ultimately, to do something against the will of anyone. Eugenics would always aim at improving the qualities of any person with full respect for their rights and freedoms.

Let us look at it this way: what do any of us when we choose a partner? A pretty face, a well-contoured body and a witty conversation, are indicators of good genes. When we choose a pair of these qualities, we are unconsciously selecting the best possible genes for our offspring. Disparaging a potential partner is an act of sterilization, to prevent the spread of certain genes. Every time we go to bind, we are contributing to the expansion of certain combinations of nucleotides and the extinction of others, as did the acolytes of the Third Reich in Auschwitz. However, no one would argue that it is immoral to stay with the pretty girl and politely say no to ugly.

That same we’ve been doing for millennia with different plant and animal species. If we stroll through the supermarket and look at the fruit and vegetable section, we will look tomatoes, peppers, oranges … We can even note in their labels that are grown following strict standards of organic farming and are not genetically modified.

However, are those species fully natural? No, they are the result of thousands of years of artificial selection. Farmers take millennia (since we invented agriculture) across the specimens best suited to their wishes. For example, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli or cabbage, they are descendants of a species of wild mustard with little nutritional value (which bears little resemblance to their descendants).Based on selecting seeds to go specimens with larger leaves, buds located in portions or in others, the longest stem or shorter, etc. They went getting each and every one of the species that contemplate the greengrocers. We’ve been doing genetic engineering since the dawn of civilization.

In addition, another new point in favor, if we were parents, anyone would be ethically reprehensible failure to give the best education possible. If we have money and can afford to pay a good college but we do not, our son or daughter could blame us: Dad, why not give me the best opportunities. Thus, it seems that it is right to give our children the best tools for their education: the best teachers, schools, colleges, libraries, etc.

Suppose we can manipulate the NR2B gene of our stem (supposedly related to learning and memory, at least in mice), so we get a lot smarter, what should we do? Let’s keep imagining: our son compete for a job with another young and the other, their parents, yes they changed to become more intelligent. Then our guy loses his job. In the background, not have manipulated its genome, have we not done the same if we had not sent the best colleges and universities? Have we not been bad parents? Do not give a child the best possible education is bad but not give it the best possible genes is not it?

In addition, beyond mere intelligence, if we find genes that have to do with the same moral behavior (we have many candidates: AVRP1 or MAOA), would not it be equally irresponsible not to change? I’m sure there are genes that have to do with being more or less altruistic, docile, obedient, generous, patient, compassionate… With full evidence, environmental factors are involved very much in the moral construction of personality, but genetic will surely also important, why to change the personality by “external factors” such as education, it is considered well while doing it through “internal factors” is bad.

We are in 1889 and we call her Alois Hitler, that is, we are the father of Adolf Hitler and our woman is about to give birth to one of the greatest criminals in history… Then a man of the future comes and tells us that with a simple operation, can make our future child a good man, tolerant of different and very sensitive and compassionate to the pain of others. If we say that man who does not will not be complicit in the death of six million Jews in the gas chambers?

Dr. Frankenstein of the XXI century

Although most of the community of geneticists remain weary defenders of the current human nature and put much stricter ethical barriers that I am advocating, there is a Harvard professor named George Church who would rather agree with me.

Apart from some projects, somewhat crazy, like trying to bring life to a Neanderthal (sequencing its genome laboratory and inserting it into an egg from the uterus of the surrogate mother of a woman sapiens), he has a number of very interesting ideas. For example, these are the ten improvements introduced into the DNA of your unborn child:

  • The MSTN gene has a variant, which facilitates the formation of muscle mass. This is very rare but particularly common in athletes.
  • Certain versions of the gene for growth hormone (GHR) do not show a significant impact on human growth, but they are nevertheless anticarcinogenic
  • FUT2 alters CCR5 genes and would make them more resistant to viral infections
  • A specific allele of the gene PCSK9 would lower the risk of heart disease by 88%, dramatically reducing mortality from the cardiovascular
  • A Certain mutation that causes increased activity in the LRP gene would give us ultra-hard bones. Not even the conventional surgical drill could drill them.
  • Another mutation of the APP gene has a significant protective effect against Alzheimer’s.
  • Manipulating the gene SCN9A achieved without making this completely disappear, most notably reduce sensitivity to pain.
  • IFIH1 rare gene variants responsible for the antiviral response, they also protect against type 1 diabetes.
  • Mute, or, at least, reduce the activity of the gene IFIH1, meanwhile, would protect against type 2 diabetes.
  • Finally, a relatively common version of the gene ABCC11 in Southeast Asia achieved to make the body odor disappeared almost completely.

If we ignore Church, our son might be a good athlete, would have much less risk of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and various viral infections. It would be difficult to break a bone, suffer less pain and even smell always good, what reasons would not it? I, if I could I would not do it and can, I think do evil face; what would watch a child with cancer that could save before he was born?

Two conditions

However, not everything goes. Although vigorously defend not be afraid to change our nature, there are limitations that although they are almost common sense, well worth making clear:

  1. We do not know well the operation of many of the genes, since epigenetic more when we indicate that there are environmental factors that determine which genes are expressed and which genes not. Similarly, no one correspondence between each gene and a characteristic of the organism, but many features is regulated by the activity of many genes. In addition, to complicate matters further, many genes are devoted expressly regulate the expression of other genes. Therefore, when we make any changes in the genes of a human being, we must be very confident that we control all the consequences of that change. Until this control is not reasonably assured, we should not make any changes.
  2. Genetic modification should always take place to improve the lives of changed. Needless to say but such interventions would always voluntary (never a father would force anything) and never would be held to experience or to design individual to the letter for any use you can think of (as in Huxley’s novel, in which designed genetically different social classes). Before doing anything, we should establish good legislation that contemplates all cases and that left little room for ambiguous interpretations.

A Posthuman Future

Shortly gene therapies and genetic tests are much more common than they are today. In addition, a little later, we will be modifying genetic sequences of embryos to rid our descendants of all possible diseases (that is what is called negative eugenics and that hardly anyone goes and disagreeing). The third step, positive eugenics, ie improving qualities such as fitness, beauty, intelligence or personality, eventually arrives.

We bioterrorist that will modify genomes of viruses to make them more lethal or, who knows, designs monstrous humans … but this does not have to make us reluctant to progress. Electricity has had a revolutionary and wonderful use in our lives, but has also been used to build electric chairs, electrified fences or torture methods should we have forbidden their investigation and subsequent implementation and dissemination? Of course, not… Genetic engineering promises a lot of great improvements and dangers even if we have to do is not to ban it, but try to minimize any possible negative consequences.

For those who keep talking about that we should not play God, it is best not to touch anything, we should be reminded that evolution is a dynamic system .Human beings continue to evolve according to Darwinian natural selection, a blind mechanism that does not have to produce a better human. Imagine that human evolution selects more selfish and aggressive.

In a few generations, their genes extend to the vast majority of humanity is more selfish and aggressive, which consequently generates victims and suffering Should we let this happen for fear of not touching anything? Should we let our own nature to chance? Is not it better-supervised control pursues the best possible end?

For better or worse, the future will not be human but posthuman. We choose to take control or be controlled.