Nov 20, 2015 | By

The Fool’s Gold of Genetic Engineering: Better Babies

Nathaniel Comfort, in Better Babies – Aeon Magazine, offers an interesting take on the history and current trends in human genetic engineering.  The idea has a very long history – back to Plato, even.  It took a nasty turn in the 20th century – did you know California had a very active Eugenics (forced sterilization) program well before Hitler?  Thankfully neither are in place today, but in the last few decades, new promises are being hyped for designer babies and genetic cures for disease – these are supposed to be just around the corner.  As the article points out, this is very unlikely.  Genes encode proteins, not human traits; Genes (and proteins) play multiple roles; The same gene will have both upside and downside effects; Genes act in clusters and cascades;  Genes express differently and at different times for different reasons.  Notwithstanding the moral questions of human genetic engineering, the technical barriers are profound.  The author concludes:  “The qualities we want in a child or in society can’t be had by tweaking a few nucleotides. There are no short cuts. To think otherwise is to conflate power with knowledge, to overestimate our understanding of biology, and to overestimate the role of genes in determining who we are.”

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