Gregory Stock agrees the impact of human genetic modification
is profound, but he likes it. "This technology will force us to re-examine
even the very notion of what it means to be human," he wrote in a recent
report. "For as we become subject to the same process of conscious design
that has so dramatically altered the world around us, we will be unable to
avoid looking at what distinguishes us from other life, at how our genetics
shapes us, at how much we are willing to intervene in life's flow from parent
Chapela of University of California at Berkeley is troubled by still other
implications the Human Genome Project may bring for the natural world--including
plants engineered specifically to produce human proteins, and pigs produced
to have antigens that are more human-like in a quest to help humans. To Chapela,
a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management,
the concept, say, of using chimpanzees as surrogate mothers for human embryos
is "abhorrent--degrading for chimpanzees, and for humans, as well. I
think what we're talking about is a very deep understanding of what it means
to be part of an intricate web of life, and why we have boundaries between
species." To Chapela, proponents see the world as a sphere smeared with
mix-and-match DNA. "Evolutionarily, it makes sense to have boundaries,"
he says, "and we're just willy-nilly breaking them down."
Brave New World
of these developments will occur in a vacuum; great advancements in robotics
are also expected, portending a trend toward the melding of man and machine
in a quest for greater human longevity--to age 110, 130 and beyond. UCLA's
Stock dubs this new human/machine "Metaman," a "global superorganism."
If it seems like mere musings stolen from a science-fiction film, consider
this bit of reality: In March, Berkeley researchers announced that they had
invented the first "bionic chip"--part living tissue, part machine.
Eventually, such chips and circuitry could help in the development of body
implants for treating genetic diseases such as diabetes.
a key discovery because it's the first step to building complex circuitry
that incorporates the living cell," mechanical engineering professor
Boris Rubinsky, who created the device with a graduate student, said afterward.
"The first electronic diode made it possible to have the computer. Who
knows what the first biological diode will make possible?"
Stock isn't concerned about the effects of human genetic engineering on nature.
"Even if half the world's species were lost, enormous diversity would
still remain," he argues in his 1993 book, Metaman: The Merging of Humans
and Machines into a Global Superorganism. "We best serve ourselves, as
well as future generations, by focusing on the short-term consequences of
our actions rather than our vague notions about the needs of the distant future
... If medical science develops an easy cure for cancer, [nuclear] wastes
may not be viewed as a significant health hazard after all. If robots can
be employed to safely concentrate and reprocess the radioactive materials,
they might even be valuable."
so fast, says another architect of the modern world, Bill Joy, the father
of Java software and co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Joy posits with some
feeling of guilt that "our most powerful 21st-century technologies ...
are threatening to make humans an endangered species." In a celebrated
article in Wired magazine last year, Joy blamed the possible extinction of
humans on a few key causes, including genetic engineering and robotics. Artificial
intelligence should match that of humans within 20 or 30 years.
combat the perceived inevitability of this Brave New World, Marcy Darnovsky,
a Sonoma State University instructor who works with the Exploratory Initiative
on the New Human Genetic Technologies, calls for three things: First, a global
ban on inheritable genetic engineering on humans; second, a global ban on
human reproductive cloning; and third, an effective and accountable regulation
of other human genetic technologies.
says we need to be pondering such weighty questions as: Do we really want
to merge with machines? "There are tremendous--awful--choices to be made,"
she says. "It's very risky to have these discussions because they're
about common values. The subject is difficult, painful and easily avoided.
But we have to stop focusing on the science and think of ourselves as part
of an ecosystem."
is also worried about the lack of civic discourse. But the advocates are talking,
particularly among themselves. At a Berkeley conference, one of them, Extropy
Institute President Max More, stood before the crowd and read an open letter
to Mother Nature:
Sorry to disturb you, but we
to you with some things to say ...
You have raised us from simple
self-replicating chemicals to
trillion-celled mammals ...
What you have made us is glorious,
yet deeply flawed ... We will no
longer tolerate the tyranny of aging
and death. Through genetic
alterations, cellular manipulations,
synthetic organs, and any necessary
means, we will endow ourselves
with enduring vitality and remove
our expiration date."
proponents are more sober, and include Nobel laureate scientists. "This
is no `marginal' movement or way of thinking," Chapela says. "The
group advocating human re-engineering includes extremely powerful, influential
and wealthy people. So don't expect them to roll over easily or soon."
CONTACT: Council for Responsible Genetics, (617)868-0870, www.gene-watch.org;
The Exploratory Initiative on the New Human Genetic Technologies, (415)434-1403,
e-mail: email@example.com; Human Genome Project, (865)576-6669, www.ornl.gov/hgmis;
The Loka Institute, (413)559-5860, www. loka.org; Stanford University Center
for Biomedical Ethics, (650)723-5760, www. stanford.edu/dept/scbe.
Good News: Toxic Testing, Chemical Reactions and Longevity
Human Genome Project may offer some good news for the environment, too. Some
Faster Determination Of What Is Toxic--And For Whom. Everybody wonders what
causes cancer. Researchers could place, say, cadmium directly onto a few strands
of DNA, and immediately, right before their eyes, watch how the DNA responds,
says Andrew Savitz, partner, Environmental Advisory Services Practice, at
Price-Waterhouse-Coopers in New York. In this way, researchers could predict
how people with certain genetic makeups would react to particular chemicals,
agrees Dr. Samuel Wilson, deputy director of the National Institutes for Environmental
Health Services in Maryland. Researchers may even watch mutations as they
happen, Savitz says. That beats the current system--conducting controlled
studies for years to prove which chemicals are toxic, or waiting to see a
two-headed fish swim downstream. "It will eliminate some of the guesswork,"
Savitz predicts. "To me, that's an immediate benefit" of the human
Testing Water For Many Strains Of Bacteria Simultaneously. "It could
help improve the quality of life for all of us--easily determining if there's
bacteria in the water," says Anne Bowdidge, spokesperson for Affymetrix,
a company in Santa Clara, California, that takes raw data from the Human Genome
Project and packages it for scientists. The biological diagnostic company
bioMerieux Vitek aims to use DNA probes as the basis of diagnostic kits for
rapidly identifying bacteria.
Want To Live To 110, Or 130? Longevity may increase, at least for the richest
people, thanks to advancements that trace to the Genome Project. That's good
news for one segment of the natural world--humans. The possible downside:
Since the world's wealthiest people consume resources at a greater rate--one
rich person equals 20 Bangladeshis, roughly speaking--that's hard on natural
Population In Poor Nations Could Stabilize (Or Not). It all depends on whether
the advances coming from research on the human genome--and the genomes of
infectious agents and food crops--trickle down to help poor countries. "If
genomics improve child survival and food production in poor countries, population
growth rates are likely to slow and prosperity is likely to increase. If poor
countries are deprived of the opportunity to benefit from genomics, inequity
and instability will increase," says Rockefeller University population
expert Joel E. Cohen, author of How Many People Can the Earth Support?
Advances in Microbe Research. Methodologies and technologies used during the
course of the Human Genome Project will go on to be applied to other tasks--such
as increasing scientists' limited understanding of "microbes that can
modify wastes in the environment, hopefully in ways that make them less-threatening
to all of us." So says Daniel Drell, a biologist at the U.S. Department
of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research.
Rivers to Cross
Are Genetically Engineered Drugs Doing to Our Water Supply?
from New Orleans' Tulane University to the nearby Mississippi River and Lake
Pontchartrain every week, Glen Boyd's students didn't know what they might
find as they dipped containers into the water and took them back for tests.
What turned up? Medicine.
was cholesterol medication. There was the hormone estrone, a form of the estrogen
prescribed to help menopausal women. And there was a strong pain reliever
called naproxin. Low levels of these medications have also shown up in surface
waters in other parts of the world.
no one claims this mildly rewed-up water hurts humans--it is further diluted
before it reaches home faucets--some scientists are concerned about negative
effects on the environment. And with a flood of new drugs as findings from
the Human Genome Project are released, researchers wonder: How many more medications
will end up in rivers and lakes?
all, drug companies now target about 500 known biochemical receptors in the
human body. That number is soon expected to jump as much as 20-fold--to 10,000
targets, says Environmental Protection Agency scientist Christian Daughton.
"The enormous array of pharmaceuticals will continue to diversify and grow as the human genome is mapped," says Daughton, whose research on the topic appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives. He says the large number of drugs being introduced "is adding exponentially to the already large array of chemical classes, each with distinct modes of biochemical action, many of which are poorly understood."
2001 by Team C0123260
The Legenders , RJC, Singapore