Manipulating Nature

01“The Future of Reproduction” was the topic at a recent small conference held in D.C. cosponsored by the New American Foundation, a left-wing think tank funded by your typical left-wing funders – Bill Gates foundation, the Joyce Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Packard Foundation, Google, McArthur Foundation and George Soros, etc.  The purpose of the conference was to present a “revolutionary breakthrough” of in vitro fertilization and recent experimentation with mitochondrial therapy, recently approved in Great Britain.

Mitochondrial gene therapy allows women who have mutations in the DNA of their mitochondria, the organelles that provide chemical energy for cells, to have genetically related children who don’t carry the mutations. Researchers have developed ways to transfer the genetic material from an egg cell that carries faulty mitochondria into a donor egg that has healthy mitochondria. After the egg has been artificially inseminated, the resulting embryo carries nuclear DNA from the mother and father and mitochondrial DNA from the donor egg, resulting in children from 3 parents.

Skeptics of the technology raise concerns about the possibility of mismatches between the DNA of the women who provide the nucleus and those who provide the mitochondria. They worry about the inadvertent introduction of new genetic abnormalities while pointing out that attempts  to create human embryos using this procedure resulted in half the eggs undergoing abnormal fertilization.  And, unlike experimental gene therapies where the risks are assumed by consenting adults, mitochondrial therapy turns children, with no voice in the decision,  into biological experiments by altering the human germline in unknowable ways.  Several rhesus monkeys, apparently healthy, have been born after the procedure in research trials in Oregon, but they have not yet lived out their life spans

According to various scientists who presented during the conference, everything that is technologically feasible should be permissible. Scientists, after all, “don’t control the data, they go where the data takes them” and they should “not be limited in the pursuit of knowledge.”  Maybe I’ve watched too many “mad scientist” movies but I can foresee many problems with that statement.

While genetic modification has great promise to treat, and perhaps someday even permanently cure genetic disease, it also has the ability to enhancing individuals or their children for other purposes through “positive genetic engineering.”   For example,  “gene doping,” defined in 2008 by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is the “nontherapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or modulation of gene expression having the capacity to enhance performance.”

While actual cases of gene doping have yet to be documented, several recent animal studies have raised the possibility that use in humans is not far behind, if not already occurring behind closed doors. In 2002, researchers reported that inserting the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) gene into the muscle cells of mice led to enlarged muscles and the creation of “Schwarzenegger Mice.” Another group reported that injecting mice with the gene for the fat-burning protein PPAR-δ enabled them to run twice as fast.

The intense pressure on professional athletes to perform has already led to the illicit use of steroids. Gene doping could potentially offer a novel way to enhance performance, and would likely require complete sequencing of the athlete’s genome to detect the change. This raises the question of whether non-therapeutic gene therapy will eventually be medically sanctioned and regulated, similar to other therapeutic gene therapy, and if so, where will the limits be drawn?

Human engineering is not really new. In fact it has been around in some form or another throughout human history, although only recently have we developed the technology to bring it to pass. The practice as first named in the 1880s by Sir Francis Galton became quite the rage in the 1920s. I’m speaking, of course, about eugenics.

Would it really be so bad if we added genes for height to small people, or hair for the bald, or good eyesight to the myopic? Probably not. But again, what are the future consequences and where do we draw the line? The techno-engineering logical upon which eugenics is premised presumes no natural limit.  Nature is just material to be manipulated.

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