The Corner

Science & Tech

China Genetically Engineering Monkeys to be More Human

Researchers work at the Beijing Genomics Institute in Shenzhen, southern China April 23, 2012 (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

When a Chinese scientist known as JK genetically engineered two children a bit ago, outrage was (temporarily) expressed. “The scientists” wrung their hands about the ethics of it all — but I suspect it’s all a con. They weren’t upset about what was done, but when, that is, before the public had been sufficiently anesthetized.

The Chinese government reacted to the world’s (transitory) outrage by arresting JK, claiming he was a rogue actor. Are you kidding me? China is the most technologically sophisticated tyranny the world has ever seen. Nothing that important happens there without somebody in high places knowing about it.

Now, Chinese scientists have genetically engineered a monkey to make it more human. From the MIT Technology Review:

“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.

According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size.

Swell. A few years ago we were promised experiments that would effect the brain would never be done in mice. They were right. It was done in monkeys!

My friend, the bioethicist William Hurlbut has often worried about “outsourcing ethics,” that is, Western scientists and funders cooperating with experiments in countries with an “anything goes” approach, allowing them to participate in research considered unethical in their own countries while remaining in good odor among their peers.

China sure fits that bill! For example, scientists there brought cloned monkeys to birth recently, meaning human reproductive cloning could be on the horizon.

Not to worry: The scientists are alarmed!

Several Western scientists, including one who collaborated on the effort, called the experiments reckless and said they questioned the ethics of genetically modifying primates, an area where China has seized a technological edge.

“The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution is a very risky road to take,” says James Sikela, a geneticist who carries out comparative studies among primates at the University of Colorado. He is concerned that the experiment shows disregard for the animals and will soon lead to more extreme modifications. “It is a classic slippery slope issue and one that we can expect to recur as this type of research is pursued,” he says.

Then, stop cooperating with the Chinese biotech sector!

We are almost out of time to keep Pandora from opening her box:

  • We need to create binding international ethics protocols to govern biotechnology.
  • We need laws that would dry up the expectation of profit by denying patent and other intellectual property protections for products or procedures that arise from unethical experiments.
  • We need the Western science establishment to stop cooperating with anything goes biotechnological experiments in China and elsewhere.
  • We need President Trump to exercise some leadership internationally to bring this crucial issue to the forefront.

Ah, quit flapping your wings, Wesley. As Mark Twain might say were he still among us, everyone talks about biotechnology, but no one wants to do anything about it.

Most Popular

U.S.

In Defense of Coleman Hughes

Picture the scene: A young man walks into a congressional hearing to offer witness testimony. His grandfather was barbarically brutalized by people who are now long dead. The nation in which he resides built its wealth of his grandfather’s brutalization. The question: Should his fellow citizens pay the young ... Read More
Film & TV

Toy Story 4: A National Anthem

The Toy Story franchise is the closest thing we have to an undisputed national anthem, a popular belief that celebrates what we think we all stand for — cooperation, ingenuity, and simple values, such as perpetual hope. This fact of our infantile, desensitized culture became apparent back in 2010 when I took a ... Read More
Education

College Leaders Should Learn from Oberlin

Thanks to their social-justice warrior mindset, the leaders of Oberlin College have caused an Ohio jury to hit it with $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages in a case where the school couldn't resist the urge to side with its “woke” students against a local business. College leaders should learn ... Read More
Elections

Joe and the Segs

Joe Biden has stepped in it, good and deep. Biden, if he has any hope of ever being elected president, will be dependent on residual goodwill among African Americans from his time as Barack Obama’s loyal and deferential vice president — so deferential, in fact, that he stood aside for Herself in 2016 even ... Read More
Film & TV

Fosse/Verdon and the Dismal #MeToo Obsession

In the final episode of Fosse/Verdon, one of the two titular characters, Bob Fosse, is shooting one of the greatest films of all time. The other, Gwen Verdon, is having a quarrel with her unspeakably dull boyfriend about whether he approves of her performing in a road-show production of a Broadway musical. These ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Madcap Caution of Donald Trump

The worry last week was that the Trump administration was ginning up fake intelligence about Iran blowing up oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz to justify a war against Iran. Then, this week, President Donald Trump said the Iranian attacks weren’t a big deal. The episode is another indication of the ... Read More