Sunday, 24 March 2013

China plans to engineer genius babies

 China is setting itself up to develop a state-endorsed genetic-engineering project. At BGI Shenzhen, scientists have collected DNA samples from 2,000 of the world’s smartest people and are sequencing their entire genomes in an attempt to identify the alleles which determine human intelligence. Apparently they’re not far from finding them, and when they do, embryo screening will allow parents to pick their brightest zygote and potentially bump up every generation's intelligence by five to 15 IQ points.

As soon as Deng Xiaoping took power in the late 70s, he took the whole focus of the Chinese government from trying to manage the economy, to trying to manage the quality and quantity of people. In the 90s, they started to do widespread prenatal testing for birth defects with ultrasound, and more recently, they've spent a lot of money researching human genetics to figure out which genes make people smarter.

Once you’ve got that information and a fertilized egg that’s divided into a few cells, you can sample one of the cells to figure out the expected intelligence if it’s implanted and becomes a person. Any given couple could potentially have several eggs fertilized in the lab with the dad's sperm and the mom's eggs. Then you can test multiple embryos and analyze which one's going to be the smartest. That kid would belong to that couple as if they had it naturally, but it would be the smartest a couple would be able to produce if they had 100 kids. It's not genetic engineering or adding new genes, it's the genes that couples already have.

BGI Shenzhen is the biggest genetic research center in China, and the biggest in the world, by a considerable margin. They’re not just doing human genetics; BGI is also doing lots of plant genetics, animal genetics, anything that’s economically relevant or scientifically interesting. 

China continues to buy up oceans of American debt and pursue a variety of population policies which secure its footing in the global power structures of tomorrow. The biotechnology field seeks to improve our complex internal mechanics, and is making strides in a variety of industries. DNA sequencing has become cheaper and more accessible, opening the doors to highly personalized medication replacing one-pill-suits-all approach. 

Wake Forest university researchers are making milestones in the 3D printing of organs and cartilage, hoping to soon cure arthritis and long waits for organ replacements. Mind-controlled prosthetics allows patients who've lost limbs or suffered spinal injuries to regain their dexterity through complex robotic arms controlled by microchips in their brain. Researchers keep discovering genes in mice that can be deleted to end obesity. 

We already have the ability to go directly into our DNA and swap genes around. We are only missing a completed map and knowledge of which genes are good, and which bad. Chinese model of simply selecting the "best of the bunch" in our potential babies, gene therapy could one day "turn off" any undesirable traits, like cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy, and without the use of surgery or drugs. A few steps down the road, and we'll use gene manipulation to enhance and increase everyone's memory and intelligence from conception. Not to mention the purely aesthetic changes like increased height, muscle density, cleavage size, eye color, hair length, etc.

People fear the possibility of a technological class system, which separates "naturalists" from those who can afford or choose scientific enhancements. The potential exists for two or more distinct new species to develop among us, separated by significant genetic advantages. 

The discussion of any form of eugenics can cause visceral reaction in the public. Forcibly sterilizing people on a basis of poverty, education or health is monstrous. Allowing all parents to choose the healthiest possible outcome for their baby less so. The scientific ability to improve the human genetic stock, and desire to do so, is not inherently evil. 

Life is the result of complex chemistry, evolving biology and our own will. We should always discuss, monitor and regulate our actions, but not to the point of never moving forward. Private, military and government labs around the world are already working on genetic engineering; to think we can stop it is naïve. The best we can hope to do is ensure that it serves mankind's best interests, and doesn't leave anyone behind.

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