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View Full Version : Gene therapy and genetic enhancement : would you do it ?



Maciamo
06-01-12, 16:14
Gene therapy consists of replacing deleterious mutations in one or several genes by a functional variant. It is one of the great hopes of the future of medicine. It is the only way of curing some genetic diseases like Huntington's or Cystic Fibrosis. Gene therapy makes possible to replace any part of DNA locally. For example, an individual with the APOE4 variant of the APOE gene, which dramatically increases chances of developing Alzheimer's Disease, could have the APOE4 mutations altered to produce the Apolipoprotein E3 (APOE3) instead.

I have little doubt that gene therapy to cure diseases is a desirable and, from my point of view, uncontroversial advancement. But just how much are you willing to change in your own DNA ? It is not just diseases that could be cured. People could choose to change eye, hair or skin colour, get better vision (or restore colour vision (http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090916/full/news.2009.921.html) for those born with colour blindness), better ears, switch on/off taste buds for bitter taste... Eventually we should even be able to tell our body to stop ageing and stay young forever. That, however, would cause serious upheavals in our society and our way of living and thinking. Yet gene therapy already exists. It is only a matter of years, decades perhaps, before we start curing diseases, changing our looks, and living longer healthier lives. This is not some distant dream for our great-great-great-grandchildren, but something most of us could live to see.

Genetic enhancement is based on the same principle as gene therapy, but instead of replacing nefarious genetic variants, people could choose to insert new genes into their body, from any other life being. All DNA is coded in a language universal to all life beings. Technically it doesn't pose any problem to insert a human gene in a mouse, a wheat gene in a tomato, or a fruit fly gene into a human. This sort of genetic engineering has been successfully applied to lots of cereals, fruits and vegetables. Anti freeze genes from Antarctic fish have been inserted into tomatoes to make them more frost resistant. DNA has no flavour, and inserting fish DNA into a tomato doesn't make the tomato more "fishy". Many of our genes are identical or near-identical to that of most other animals or even plants.

Fireflies, some squids, jellyfish and shrimps as well as some fungus, have developed bioluminescence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioluminescence) (phosphorescence). The gene for bioluminescence has been inserted successfully in fish to make them glow in the dark. It doesn't make them any different except that they have this new property.

Since any biological properties are set in the genes, all properties from any life being on Earth could potentially be transferred to other species. We could theoretically create animals that use photosynthesis like plants (although that would be a tough one since it affects the mos basic functioning of our cells, as animal cells produce energy through mitochondria and plants through chloroplasts, and combining the two methods sounds like a challenge).

My question here is : if some genes from other life beings could make you more resistant or give you some desirable properties not (yet) found in humans, would you do it ? Think about the vastness of life and about all the possible genes that we humans could benefit from. Would it be ethical to do so ? Would you personally do it ? What special enhancement would you choose ? Don't say 'flying' as that would require a lot of deep-rooted changes in many genes to develop wings big enough to support a human being, although it is theoretically possible.

Would it be useful for some of us to have echolocation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_echolocation) like bats or cave swiftlets ? Would we want to see better in the dark like cats ? How about being able to smell as well as a dog ? Just add or modify a few genes, and that's it ! It doesn't require to have a dog's nose to smell like one. We have similar smell receptors as our canine friends. All that is needed is to increase the number of receptors, just a small manipulation in a DNA sequence. It won't have any visible effect from the outside (no more than we are able to distinguish colour blinds or deaf people from looks only).

Maciamo
26-01-12, 11:52
I stumbled on this amazing video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Xfs0R-7cS_s) from CCTV showing a Chinese boy with the ability to see clearly in the dark like cats. The boy has perfectly blue eyes, but with the particularity that they flash back a sort of blue-green light when exposed to a torch/flashlight.

They also referred to his higher sensitivity to bright sunlight, although I believe this is normal for people who have blue eyes as opposed to brown eyes. I have made a few experiments myself and noticed that among my friends and relatives people with fair eyes tend to see better in the dark than those with brown eyes.

Mzungu mchagga
26-01-12, 14:54
I have noticed the same among people. I have very bright-blue eyes, and am extremely sensitive to sunlight and even flashlight from cameras. However, when it's dark inside the house I am the last who switches the lights on, and I still read in the dark when others tell me they aren't able to. What confuses me, is that science says this can't be true...

Knovas
26-01-12, 18:24
It happens the same to me having blue eyes. I feel much better in the dark, now it's a good period for me because the night is longer. I really hate summer due to excess of sunlight.

No problem to read when it's dark.

Carlos
27-01-12, 02:28
It has nothing to do color, I have them and I love amber shadows, I can read in the dark, unforgiving years and the truth is that it is better to light the light, because when it gets dark you can not see three on a donkey. Anyway do not know anyone with brown eyes or dark eyes presumed that face the sun bear or not to see in the dim light or darkness, come on, with the lights off either sticking a milk of care.

LeBrok
27-01-12, 08:03
Though it might be some truth in it, anyone with sensitive eyesight should try vitamin D3 supplements. It helped me, I can go outside without sunglasses now.

Maciamo
27-01-12, 10:45
Though it might be some truth in it, anyone with sensitive eyesight should try vitamin D3 supplements. It helped me, I can go outside without sunglasses now.

While for the opposite case (improving night vision), one should take vitamin A (or rather beta-carotene).

DavidCoutts
07-09-13, 21:57
Hell yeah - make me a Superhero!:grin:

(Supervillain is cool too:evil_angry: )