Human Exceptionalism

Gene Manipulation Wins a Nobel Prize

One of the primary purposes behind ESCR and human cloning research, in my view, is to eventually genetically engineer human progeny. Such research is now in its very early stages. But I think this Nobel Prize is an indicator of where things are heading. From the story:

The three scientists were honored for a technique called gene targeting, which lets scientists deactivate or modify particular genes in mice. That in turn lets them study how those genes affect health and disease.

To use this technique, researchers introduce a genetic change into mouse embryonic stem cells. These cells are then injected into mouse embryos. The mice born from these embryos are bred with others, to produce offspring with altered genes.

The first mice with genes manipulated in this way were announced in 1989. More than 10,000 different genes in mice have been studied with the technique, the Nobel committee said. That’s about half the genes the rodents have.

“Gene targeting has pervaded all fields of biomedicine. Its impact on the understanding of gene function and its benefits to mankind will continue to increase over many years to come,” said the citation for the $1.54 million prize.

Steve Brown, director of the mammalian genetics unit at the Medical Research Council in London, said the three researchers have “given us the toolkit to understand how genes function” in mice and so, by extension, in humans. As a result, of their work, he said, “we’re on the cusp of having a much better understanding of the relationship between genes and disease.”


Unstated in this story, is that these same techniques that would initially be used to combat disease, could–and in my view, would–eventually be applied to human eugenic enhancement. With the science in this field advancing so fast, now is the time to determine what should be acceptable in manipulating the human genome and what should be permanently off limits. But I am not holding my breath.

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