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Friday, September 23, 2016

Altering genes in human embryos and cloning hamburgers

Three recent articles have come to my attention, and seem worth commenting on.

National Public Radio reports on a scientist in Sweden who is modifying the genes of human embryos. (The embryos are "leftovers" from in vitro fertilization procedures, and the parents have given consent for such use.) He says that he is trying to figure out how to fix harmful genes.

There are serious ethical problems with this type of research. One such is the question of whether it is ethical to experiment on human embryos at all. Other questions include the likelihood that such techniques would be used to produce "designer babies" -- children with genes for, say, artistic ability -- and thus genetic haves and have-nots. Another question relates to the possibility of making some sort of mistake while pursuing this technique in an embryo which is brought to birth. Such a mistake would damage such a child, and would also be passed on to that child's offspring. The scientist says that he is not planning to implant any of the embryos he is working on, but someone else might.

Scientific American has an article about the "yuck factor" (I just don't like it) in making ethical decisions. An example would be making hamburgers from human tissue. (No one is doing that!) The article also discusses the production of hamburger meat from cow tissue. That has been done, but is some distance from being marketable. There are potential advantages in using such meat, which are discussed.

Scientific American also discusses the possibility (and, perhaps, likelihood) of using gene editing techniques to improve intelligence. 

Thanks for reading!

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