NOT ALL GENETIC ENGINEERING NEWS IS BAD NEWS…OR IS IT?August 5, 2011
Not all genetic engineering news is bad news. Consider this breakthrough reported in the U.K.'s The Guardian for June 15, 2011:
Notice that the technique involves turning off the "stop codon" within a genome that otherwise would have stopped the production of certain proteins early, allowing the gene to complete the production of the protein, rather than prematurely halting the program. While the article explicitly states that it is far too early to consider clinical applications, the theoretical promise that the technique holds for stopping diseases caused by these premature "stop" orders, such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.
And that, indeed, means that not all genetic engineering news is bad news.... or is it? Consider other benefits. Geneticists have speculated that such a premature "stop" codon might be behind human aging itself, since some geneticists believe the human genome is so structured as to look as if human beings should live on average 120 years. With the advent of gene therapies, nano-technologies, scientists are indeed speculating on the possibilities of engineered techniques that could lead to a kind of "virtual immortality," a longevity far exceeding current life expectancies.
But would that indeed be a good thing? In my very first book, The Giza Death Star, I speculated on the moral implications of such technologies, and it bears repeating here. Consider such longevity in the hands, say, of a Mother Teresa, a Mahatma Ghandi, or an Albert Schweitzer: long lives spent in doing good, in moral and spiritual growth. But consider also such technologies in the hands of a Hitler, a Stalin, or, worse, in the hands of the power-crazed elites that think they run the world now. Imagine the mayhem the likes of a "Zbigniew Kissinger" could sow with thousands of years at their disposal to do it; the endless books on grand geopolitics that could be written. Imagine, too, the vast and sweeping and sudden changes in human society that would result from one generation being able to accumulate vast interdisciplinary tracts of knowledge, whereas currently, all of human knowledge has to be recycled and re-transmitted every 20 years or so, and to specialists in ever more fragmented fields. In other words, the potential for great good, and great evil, both receive a "force multiplier" by such techniques and their potentialities. Imagine also the ability to turn off properly functioning "stop" codons early... the ability to heal from such diseases implies also the ability to create them.
Whatever one contemplates, the bottom line is, that this new technique has brought us a step closer - a massive step closer - to these futures, and that means we all face new, spiritual choices, moral and ethical choices, that humanity only faced once before, at that "Tower of Babel" Moment of History.