Transgenic Humans


The Transgenic future? Splice (2009)

Transgenic animals have a foreign gene deliberately inserted into their genome. This technology has been used to create glow-in-the-dark mice as well as Glofish, fish which have been genetically altered with luminescent colors. The technology has been used in attempts to revive the woolly mammoth, and there are debates over whether to use transgenic primates to study the human condition. There is also the prospect of transgenic humans, who would benefit from genetic advantages borrowed from other animal species.

Producing transgenic humans would require a number of steps. A suitable transgene would need to be isolated and promoted to express in the right way at the right time, then placed inside a human cell grown in tissue culture. A nucleus from the transgenic human cell would need to be placed in an enucleated egg cell, then allowed to grow and divide. The now-developing embryo would be placed into a womb to come to term. The technologies needed to achieve all these steps are already available, and human and non-human genes have already been mixed through byproducts of in vitro and stem cell research.

Some argue that the use of transgenes to modify humans can open up abilities conferred by nature onto other animal species, like sonar, acute senses, and the ability to photosynthesize or produce our own essential nutrients. The potential value would be greater than any concerns regarding human dignity, which is tied to our ability to reason rather than our genetic integrity. We could borrow genes from chimps to increase the efficiency of our muscles and performance on memorization tasks and strategic planning.

But the implications are equally scary. Some people are concerned by the possibility of the use of “harvest transhumans“—people bred and raised with the intention of being used for medical experiments related to transgenes. There is also the fear known as “species anxiety,” which has led to laws in Canada and parts of the United States banning the creation of multi-species chimeras. But science marches on, and in 100 years, the world could be full of humans with a touch of chimp, bat, octopus, or mouse.

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