Will We Genetically Engineer Humans to Save the Environment?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014 - 1:58PM
Genetic Engineering
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 - 1:58PM
Will We Genetically Engineer Humans to Save the Environment?

Will we eventually decide to engineer a more sustainable version of humanity? NYU director of Bioethics Matthew Liao said, "We tried to think outside the box. What hasn't been suggested with respect to addressing climate change?" The answer is genetic engineering, according to Liao and his colleagues. They argued that, instead of continuing to attempt to change the environment, we may at some point choose to change ourselves.

 

While human genetic engineering has a negative, even fascist connotation, particularly as a result of efforts to implement eugenics, Liao and his colleagues are suggesting relatively harmless changes. More importantly, the researchers are not envisioning a dystopian future in which every person is forced to undergo invasive genetic modification, but rather a future in which the option is available but everyone maintains control over their own bodies. "We're not suggesting that we should mandate these ideas, but it would be good to make them options for people," said Liao.

 

Widespread vegetarianism would be one of the easiest ways to reduce our greenhouse emissions, as 18% comes from livestock farming. As a result, Liao et al discussed the possibility of engineering humans to develop an allergy to meat. "We can artificially induce intolerance to red meat by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins," said Liao. Not only could we change the human genome to this effect, Liao also envisions the creation of a device that is reminiscent of a nicotine patch, but instead of releasing nicotine it would induce a meat intolerance. The researchers believe that this device could be possible in the very near future partially as a result of data from people bitten by the lone star tick. Those bitten by this tick immediately developed an allergy to red meat, which forced them to drastically change their diets.

 

The researchers also argued that making humans shorter would go a long way towards sustainability. "Reducing height by 15cm would mean a reduction in mass of around 25%," says Liao. As a result, there would be less mass to transport and feed, and resources would be conserved. In addition, shorter people have been known to live longer, "and you can fit in airplanes better!" said Liao.

 

Although this sounds extremely futuristic, Liao does not believe it is at all outside the realm of possibility: "A lot of the things we're talking about are already being done in society, it's not as extreme as we think. Though these things aren't being done in the context of climate change. I think if you gave people that option, some will be willing to take it."

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