Why Orphan Black's "Designer Baby" Big Bad Isn't Too Far from Reality

Friday, 06 May 2016 - 1:37PM
Genetic Engineering
Dystopias
Friday, 06 May 2016 - 1:37PM
Why Orphan Black's "Designer Baby" Big Bad Isn't Too Far from Reality
Orphan Black had quite a few crazy revelations last night--M.K. is officially a Helsinki survivor! Rachel is letting Charlotte die! Donnie likes to pretend he's in the Mile High Club during phone sex!--but the eleventh hour-reveal of the Brightborn project might have the longest-lasting consequences. After eliminating Dyad and Topside (mostly) from the picture, Brightborn might just be the new Big Bad going forward.

From what we can tell so far, Brightborn is the public face of Neolution, the shadowy organization that's aims to jump-start humanity's evolution into some kind of higher race. Aside from the clone project and worm robots, we haven't had much of an idea of their concrete plans to do this, but now it's clear: they've created a front in the form of a high-end fertility clinic. Brightborn's slogan: "Making the world better, one baby at a time." [*Shudder*]

Orphan Black is a sci-fi show, so obviously a lot of the actual science is speculative. We haven't managed to successfully clone humans (yet), and as far as I know there are no plans to create cybernetic worm parasites that latch into your face and change your DNA. But Brightborn, so far at least, is much more grounded in reality. While generally, fertility clinics simply help couples who want to start families, Brightborn is eerily reminiscent of the real-life "designer baby" trend, which is gaining in both prominence and scientific feasibility.

With the advent of convenient gene-editing tools like Crispr, modifying the human genome is getting easier and more specific. Last year, Chinese scientists claimed they had successfully modified human embryos, leading to a huge controversy and a call from the White House to put a moratorium on human gene editing. But then, in February, UK scientists were given permission to edit the human genome, which will mark the first of these types of experiments to be explicitly sanctioned by a regulating body.

Of course, most of this research goes to gene edits that are almost impossible to argue with, like the eradication of fatal or debilitating genetic diseases. But in some cases, and especially if this research is ever used for a profit-making purpose, there is a distinct Gattaca-type (or Orphan Black-type) air to it. Just listen to these scientists from genetic engineering corporation Cambrian Genomics say that we should think of human genetics as "software" and that it's time for an "upgrade," and try not to get creeped out:



I don't think we shouldn't try to stop scientific progress, but once editing the human genome becomes a reality, we should be very careful how we apply the technology. The attitudes behind eugenics have led to some of the worst atrocities in history, so we shouldn't apply a value system and try to create "perfect" humans willy-nilly. We don't want a Brightborn situation on our hands.
Science
Science of Sci-Fi
Genetic Engineering
Dystopias

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