Is Gattaca Becoming a Reality? Scientists May Create Ageless Designer Babies
"Genetics... What can it mean? The ability to perfect the physical and mental characteristics of every unborn child."
A video released by the Wall Street Journal begins with the ominous words from the film Gattaca, which depicts a world in which genetic engineering has created a kind of "master race" of perfect genetic specimens. In this video, journalist Deborah Kan interviews Austen Heinz, the CEO of Cambrian Genomics, a corporation that is attempting to make the genetic engineering capabilities portrayed in Gattaca a reality.
[Credit: WSJ Digital Network]
When Kan asks Heinz if they are "taking out the bad parts of genetics and... manufacturing them in a different way to put them back into the embryo and create a disease-free human being." Heinz responds that we "shouldn't be getting diseases," considering that we possess all of the technology needed to design genetically "perfect" human beings. He cites aging as one disease that we can cure, since the aging process consists of a series of genetic mutations over time.
Heinz believes that we should view our genetic material as "software" that we can "update and upgrade, and fix and clean." Yikes. It's a brave new world, all right.
[Credit: Small Business Labs]
He explains that thus far, "designer babies" refer to a process during in vitro fertilization in which parents shop for an embryo, so to speak. Now that genetic sequencing is relatively easy (it now costs approximately $1,000 while the first complete sequencing cost $3 billion), geneticists can view the entire genetic sequence of all of the potential embryos and implant the ones that do not have debilitating genetic diseases, such as Huntington's or Tay-Sachs. But he also explains that making edits to the genome is not only possible, it is becoming easier and more commonplace. As a result, entirely manufactured babies whose parents hand-picked every single one of their physical and mental traits will most likely exist in the near future.
"I can't imagine after 10 or 20 years that people would not design their children digitally. It would be thought of as insane or barbaric. There's just too many mistakes... Schizophrenia, addiction disorders, ADHD. These kinds of conditions are going off the charts, primarily because men are waiting longer to have children, and that's resulting in more mutations in the sperm, which is resulting in more mutations in the embryo and the adult human."
While it's more difficult to argue with "editing" potentially fatal genetic diseases out of the genome, his comments regarding mental illness are much more controversial. The definition of mental illness is much more subjective, and including it as a genetic "mistake" that should be fixed brings Heinz and his corporation much closer to fascist territory. Empirical data tells us that mental illness cannot be definitively considered a genetic "mistake," as the results of many studies indicate that the incidence of psychopathological symptoms is higher in artists than the general population. Furthermore, many psychologists have theorized that social norms dictate society's definition of mental illness, so "curing" mental illness on a genetic level may simply normalize the human race.