Genetic Engineering as the End of Human Evolution?
Genetic Engineering as the End of Human Evolution?
In order to have any evolution of a species whatsoever, there must be
some sort of mutation. Granted, the majority of mutations attempted by
a species fail miserably and the individual plant/animal will not
survive, but without mutation, the gene pool is limited – stagnant
even, and when the gene pool is stagnant,, there is less chance for
survival, and evolution essentially stops (Mayr, (1)).
With that in mind, and the entirety of evolutionary processes,
what are we humans doing in the field of genetic modifying medicine?
Gene therapy may help a lot of people live out healthier, happier lives
but is this helping evolution? Hurting it? Will our supposed health
happiness in the present bring suffering and death for the future of
our species? It is a difficult idea even to wrap one's mind around. Of
course we want to help our brethren to feel less pain – to use gene and
small molecule therapy (see Anderson, 3rd paragraph for definitions) to
take away 'genetic diseases' just as one would use Tylenol to take away
a headache or a fever – it is the compassionate, humane thing to do.
But where do we draw the line between that and the facts of life –
death (even young death), diversity in the gene pool (including
mutations – attractive or not), etc.?
Reproductive medicine has raised a lot of bio-ethical questions
over the past forty or fifty years. From birth-control to Roe v. Wade
to test-tube babies to choosing the sex and other genetic traits of
one's child (Caplan & McGee, (3)),
many wonder where we are going with all of these technological advances
in medicine. Are we perhaps becoming too smart for our own good?
Recently a 66-year-old woman gave birth to a child in Romania with much
help from her doctor as she was too old to create her own eggs – an egg
was fertilized and then placed into her uterus (Caplan, (4)).
She will be eighty when her daughter enters high school. This may be
pushing the question too far towards the bio-ethical standpoint, but
nevertheless, where do we draw the line in reproductive medicine? Do we
allow, a hundred years - or maybe even decades – from now parents to
essentially create their own children by choosing eye color, hair
color, intelligence and strength through the simple selection and
rejection of genes? From an evolutionary standpoint, this process could
alter – even stop completely – the process of human evolution, for it
would disallow mutations in pursuit of the 'perfect' child.
Residing in Germany is a four year old boy who was born with a
genetic mutation that prohibits production of myostatin (a protein
which limits muscle growth), and thereby can hold 7lb. weights in his
hands with arms straight out (The AP, (5)).
His mother, a former professional sprinter, had one copy of the gene
mutated, while both of his are such. This mutation could be a very good
addition to the human gene pool. It would allow the human species to;
very slowly (as evolution always works very slowly) become a stronger
species, which would aid our survival. But then, after chance and
natural selection take their course, no one could ever predict whether
it would be the gene to survive. Yet, without mutation, the gene pool
is limited, and thus the species has a lesser chance of surviving. Many
would argue that in our extensive and expanding research on the human
genome, one could in effect allow for the strengthening of the species
in locating and manually mutating the genes which controlled production
of myostatin, and any other factors. However, I would dare to claim
that the practice would still limit variation (the key to evolution,
along with mutation) in that it would disallow any new mutations from
occurring. If a doctor or scientist noticed an oddity in the
development of an embryo, he or she would more than likely abort the
process and start over again, for fear of the child developing with
some horrid and unknown genetic disease. The problem is just that – if
it's unknown, we can't be sure that it will end up quite so tragic as
the victims of sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, or any of the
other genetic diseases discovered thus far. We can't be sure that it
won't have a profound and everlasting positive effect on the human
species as a whole.
What does all of this say to the future of our species? Or, for that matter, to the practice of genetic engineering? Should we change the genes of those suffering from genetic disease? Or should we call it an act of chance and evolution, and allow selection to take its course? I fear that if we find a cure for all diseases, our tiny planet will become overpopulated and though we may be healthy, we'll be cramped, claustrophobic, and quite unhappy. Yet I also don't like the idea of anybody suffering from disease. I almost want to make the claim that disease is the natural way of limiting a population, so that it doesn't get out of hand, and that those who can survive – those whose immune systems are tough enough to handle what gets thrown at them, are biologically and genetically superior (though I understand that a great deal of one's ability to deal with disease has to do with the environment in which he or she resides), and that is the way evolution, nature, and perhaps whatever deity is up there intended it (that is to say, if there was intention at all). Perhaps it is like the tsunami – the world's way of recycling and regenerating itself, and though up close it seems tragic and even catastrophic, in the long run it is the best course to take, and will eventually even itself out in order to produce a more adaptive, efficient species.
2)A Cure that may Cost us Ourselves Anderson, Dr. W. French, Newsweek: Jan. 1, 2000
3)Reproductive Medicine Caplan, Arthur L., and McGee, Glenn. Bioethics.net
4)How Old is Too Old to Have a Baby? Caplan, Arthur Ph.D.
5)Genetic Mutation Turns Tot into Superboy The Associated Press
6)Future Direction in Bio-Ethics Caplan, Arthur L., and McGee, Glenn. Bioethics.net
06/22/2005, from a Reader on the Web
I personally think that genetic engineering is quite a good thing. I can understad that people are afraid of the unknown, but ifwe never step outside the box nothing will ever get done if we are uncomfortable with doing it. so lets all step out of the box and HAVE FUN WITH GENETIC ENGINEERING!!!!!!!!!