Call it the “ethical offspring” movement.

By whatever name, a movement is coming which will push for human Heritable Genomic Editing (HGE) for future populations.

They will cite at least four major reasons:

  1. Eradicating serious maladies and disabilities
  2. Improving human resistance to viruses and other threats
  3. Combating the climate change “crisis”
  4. Ensuring greater equity and fairness in human population

The case for HGE on these grounds is already being made.

And there’s one more huge driver that will ensure that governments aggressively pursue gene editing humans: military applications.

Like every other technology race, including ones currently happening with quantum computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI), competing world powers will not sit by, while they suspect their rivals are creating genetically enhanced super soldiers.

Much of it may sound like science fiction, and was certainly foreseen by that genre.

But it’s happening. Scientists who only a half decade ago were expressing revulsion at an infamous instance of gene edited babies, are changing their tone, and their views.

And with CRISPR technology and AI fueled advances in gene sequencing and genetic manipulation modeling, limits to what can theoretically be done are quickly falling away.

The greatest danger? HGE will not only be a limited option. In the not distant future, human populations will be “genetically legislated.”

That’s a term I have used to describe how new generations will have laws coded into their genes, where laws cannot be defied or resisted. Like COVID vaccine mandates, genetic legislation will take the form of mandates, not options.

Following is a survey of how HGE is being mainstreamed in the name of its fantastic potentials for good.

From Fighting Genetic Diseases to Ensuring “Equity”

A 30 January 2023 article in USA Today, “After a decade, CRISPR gene editing is a ‘revolution in progress.’ What does the future hold?” surveyed rapid advances of CRISPR gene editing technology and uses over the past decade.

The article detailed some major advances in gene therapy technologies, which aim to treat individuals affiliated with certain genetic conditions.

It noted that more than 6,000 rare inherited diseases are caused by a single genetic defect, and described how genetic therapies aim to correct those flaws in affected individuals.

It’s important to distinguish the different uses of CRISPR in fighting genetic diseases. Some research is focused on altering somatic cells in individuals, or cells other than “germline” egg and sperm cells.

These are commonly referenced as genetic therapies. According to medlineplus.gov, they are isolated to only certain tissues, and are not passed from one generation to the next.

In contrast, heritable genome editing  involves editing genes in egg or sperm cells, or to the genes of an embryo.  These changes can be passed to future generations.

The range of somatic genetic therapies being developed for different genetic afflictions is rapidly growing, as a survey by Genome Engineering firm Synthgo suggests.

The USA Today article claimed that most scientists support somatic genetic therapies while opposing heritable genome editing:

“Most scientists and medical ethicists support the idea of using gene editing to improve the life of someone with a terrible disease. But they recoil in horror at the concept of editing the genome of a human embryo, making a change that will be passed down through the generations.”

But that assertion doesn’t match reality. England is currently set to consider legalizing HGE. (See “U.K. MAY LEGALIZE HERITABLE GENE EDITING BY 2023,” 15 Nov 2023).

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, has been establishing a legal framework for HGE.

A July 2021 paper titled “Human genome editing: position paper,” noted:

To demonstrate how the various components of the governance framework come together in practice, the Committee used seven scenarios: 

(i) somatic human genome editing clinical trials for sickle-cell disease; 

(ii) somatic human genome editing clinical trials for Huntington’s disease;

(iii) somatic human genome editing and unscrupulous entrepreneurs and clinics;

(iv) somatic human genome editing and epigenetic editing to enhance athletic ability; 

(v) heritable human genome editing (for reproduction); 

(vi) heritable human genome editing and unscrupulous entrepreneurs and clinics expanding assisted reproduction; and 

(vii) prenatal (in utero) somatic human genome editing clinical trials for cystic fibrosis. 

These scenarios illustrate the practical challenges that might be encountered in the future when implementing good governance for human genome editing research.

The statement acknowledged that much surrounding heritable genome editing will be commercialized and for-profit.  In a section subtitled “Intellectual Property” it specified:

Intellectual property

WHO should: 

(i) work with others to encourage relevant patent holders to help ensure equitable access to human genome editing interventions; 

(ii) encourage industry to work with resource-constrained countries 

to build capacity to take advantage of human genome editing inventions; and 

(iii) convene a meeting of those holding or applying for patents relevant to human genome editing, industry bodies, international organizations, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade Organization, and those involved in establishing or running relevant patent pools to explore the potential for the adoption of appropriate ethical licensing requirements.

Heritable genetic editing is already becoming a standard for creating new variants of plants and animals. That’s because it’s the simplest way to effect a desired permanent and propagating change in a species.

Where gene therapies are a retrofit, HGE is a redesign that can fix the flaw.

Making heritable genetic changes at the embryonic level would create populations in which the possibility of spreading a genetic malady is no longer possible. It’s a more permanent, reliable and cost effective solution than providing gene therapies to individuals already carrying and suffering from a genetic disease.

And while the dividing line of what constitutes a debilitating genetic condition may exist at a certain ethical boundary today, that’s no guarantee that in the future, other relative inequalities may be deemed just as relatively debilitating, necessitating genetic intervention.

What if IQ differentials are deemed so inequitable and debilitating for those on the low end, that in the name of fairness, the range of differentials is compressed, via heritable genomic technology, and mandated via genetic legislation?

An active transhuman movement which includes many scientists working in the fields of artificial intelligence and genomics are already advocating designing and enhancing humans as a “human right.” (See “TRANSHUMANISM: YES THERE’S A PARTY FOR THAT,” 31 Jan 2023.) 

Concerns about equity are currently focused on ensuring access to somatic gene therapies to marginalized populations. But equity may one day require much more intrusive dictates.

Changing the World—and the Human Genetics—to Combat the “Climate Crisis”

Climate change activists and a growing transhuman movement proselytizing for boundless use of gene editing have every reason to forge an alliance that will mainstream heritable human genetic modifications.

Altering humans to combat climate change has already been contemplated by major science and other organizations.

A 2017 paper published in the AMA Journal of Ethics (yes the American Medical Association) asked the question, “Is Editing the Genome for Climate Change Adaptation Ethically Justifiable?”

After noting that genetic technology was rapidly reaching the point where human gene editing would be doable, it focused on the matter of climate:

“A recent international report on the state of climate change by the American Meteorological Society found that the year 2016 was the earth’s warmest year on record. Our sea levels also reached a record high in 2016, and the concentration of carbon dioxide at the earth’s surface is the highest it has been in 800,000 years, which is as far back as ice records extend [2]. As climate change progresses, we humans might have to inhabit a world for which we are increasingly maladapted. If we were able to identify genes that directly influence the ability to thrive in a changing climate, would it be ethically justifiable to edit the genome to enhance the ability to adapt to new environmental conditions?”

The article’s author suggested that heritable human gene editing would be warranted, if it followed a proposed ethical “4-S framework.”

That framework outlined four considerations that would be taken into account to decide whether proposed genetic modification were ethically permissible: “(1) safety, (2) significance of harm to be averted, (3) succeeding generations, and (4) social consequences.”

Under that rubric, it’s easy to see how “significance of harm to be averted,” would be argued by climate activists to redesign humans.

The laundry list of ways humans might be modified in response to the “impending doom” of a carbon polluted planet could grow long indeed.

One of the major obsessions of climate activists is the excessive “carbon footprint” of humans.

If humans could be designed to reduce their carbon emissions, by reducing their exhalation of carbon, or their food consumption, it isn’t hard to imagine that those changes might one day soon be proposed for future human populations.

What if heritable gene editing could reduce average fertility, so that the chances of copulation resulting in a pregnancy was statistically reduced by say 10 percent?  Or next year 12 percent, periodically revised upward in increments, like sales taxes?

What if heritable gene editing could reduce the probability of humans to produce twins or triplets?

And it could go much further. At some point, it might be considered necessary to genetically eradicate an “extreme” propensity to resist authority from the general human population.

It might be mandated among those who are offering the greatest resistance to being genetically legislated.

HGE might be used to predispose humans to be more comfortable and happy living in more confined and clustered proximity with each other. Studies have shown that humans as they’re currently naturally constituted, are happier and less prone to mental illness in non-urban living environments.

But that doesn’t sit well with elites who want the bulk of humans “off the land,” and consigned to pervasive monitoring and regulation in “smart cities.”

An October 2021 World Economic Forum (WEF) article detailed how genetically altering animal and plant life is fast becoming a go-to weapon in combating climate change.

The article, titled “How engineering animals and plants could help fight climate change,” argued:

“Reaching these [climate] goals means investing in proven solutions like renewable energies, resilient infrastructure, and land regeneration. But alongside what we know works, researchers and policymakers want to consider the unknown. Efforts to genetically engineer plants and animals for both climate change mitigation and adaptation are gaining momentum, driven by advancements in biotechnology.”

Among the most surreal genetic initiatives described by the article involved efforts of a company named Collosal to modify elephants with genetic material from extinct wooly mammoths.

Many news headlines at the time made it sound like the project was about bringing back an extinct species in an act of dis-extinction.

But the initiative wasn’t about bringing back wooly mammoths. It was about inserting particular desired traits into elephants in a truly far-fetched scheme to mitigate climate change:

“Releasing cold-loving mammals into a warming planet may sound counter-intuitive, but studies suggest that their impact on the tundra could help mitigate climate change. The key is keeping the permafrost frozen, ground that contains large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In theory, cold-adapted elephants would knock down sunlight-absorbing trees, exposing ground that better reflects light and prevents melting.

“Colossal’s plan to repopulate the tundra is a moonshot. But even if they fall short of their ultimate goal, investors are excited about the advancements in genetic engineering that Colossal may achieve along the way.

“The genetic difference between an Asian elephant and a woolly mammoth is ~1.4 million DNA letters. Swapping even a small fraction of these letters would be a monumental engineering feat that would open the door to more efficiently engineering other organisms for climate change mitigation or adaptation.”

The WEF article outlines more prosaic climate change inspired genetic modifications as well, including “improving the efficiency of photosynthesis,” so plants can absorb more atmospheric carbon, and utilizing genetic engineering to design plants which grow longer roots “to store carbon deeper underground.”

The drive to alter food crops, while avoiding having to label them as GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms), was detailed in the recent USA Today article.

It signaled that a concerted effort would be made by corporate and government interests to sell genetically edited foods as more…well, natural, than GMO:

“These are changes that domestication of wild plants or breeding has already achieved, [plant biologist Zachary] Lippman said, though it’s too early to know if the public will accept them.”

It’s true that there are differences in the technologies. GMO technology refers to a transfer of genes between sometimes wildly different species, such as modifying a plant with a genetic attribute from a fish.

Gene editing (at least theoretically) involves edits of a single species.  But as the earlier “wooly mammoth example” illustrates, language can get muddy in describing what is really being done.

A More Resilient Human Genome to Fight Contagions

Interestingly, the AMA article from 2017 foretold a case where Human genome editing would be not only “permissible,” but “morally required” and mandated: to combat viruses.

“Some might argue that using gene editing to improve our ability to adapt to climate change is a form of enhancement and, like any genetic enhancement, is therefore ethically unjustified [12]. Underlying this argument are concerns about eugenics, playing God, a slippery slope toward designer babies, opposition to the desire for genetic perfectionism, and an extreme emphasis on individual autonomy. Enhancement per se, however, is not ethically unjustified. In fact, in some cases it is not only ethically permissible, but morally required. For example, vaccines are enhancements that our society has mandated.”

When the paper appeared, vaccines that operated at the level of manipulating human genetics had never been released to the public. Just a few years later, genetic level treatments were not only made available, but mandated, as a moral imperative to protect the populace.

Immune system related genetic maladies have already been targeted by genetic therapy innovations.

A study published in Science Translational Medicine in October 2022 detailed how scientists were able use CRISPR technology to edit a faulty gene in patients with a condition known as CTLA-4 insufficiency, a malady which degrades the ability of the immune system to fight off recurring virus and bacteria infections.

Heritable Gene Editing Will Proceed Unless People Demand A Different Path

Though scientists have claimed intentions to proceed with extreme caution regarding heritable gene editing, the current reality is that science is speeding toward the technological and ethical framework to declare it necessary.

In 2019, a Harvard Gazette article, “Perspectives on gene editing”, quoted, faculty co-chair of the Harvard Business School/Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator, Richard Hamermesh:

“Before we start working on embryos, we have a long way to go, and civilization has to think long and hard about it. There’s no question that gene editing technologies are potentially transformative and are the ultimate precision medicine. If you could precisely correct or delete genes that are causing problems — mutating or aberrant genes — that is the ultimate in precision. It would be so transformative for people with diseases caused by a single gene mutation, like sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. Developing safe, effective ways to use gene editing to treat people with serious diseases with no known cures has so much potential to relieve suffering that it is hard to see how anyone could be against it.

“There is also commercial potential and that will drive it forward. A lot of companies are getting venture funding for interesting gene therapies, but they’re all going after tough medical conditions where there is an unmet need — [where] nothing is working — and they’re trying to find gene therapies to cure those diseases. Why should we stop trying to find cures?

“But anything where you’re going to be changing human embryos, it’s going to take a long time for us to figure out what is appropriate and what isn’t. That has to be done with great care in terms of ethics.”

In 2023, a “long time” has passed in terms of genetic technology advancement. And every day, governments and scientific bodies with regulatory power are deciding that it is not only ethically permissible, but morally necessary to more widely introduce heritable gene editing to plants, animals—and humans, too. 

If there are any doubts concerning the sea change in process right now, a 5 February Guardian article should dispel that notion.

In it, one of the most aggressive advocates for heritable gene editing, U.K. geneticist Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, envisioned virtually unbound re-designing of humans. He suggested astronauts might be genetically tailored to be better protected against radiation and the effects of weightlessness.

“You could also think about modifying liver enzymes to make men and women better able to rid their bodies of toxins used in chemical warfare, or to make changes that make them more resistant to biological weapons,” Lovell-Badge was quoted by The Guardian. “That is the kind of human enhancement that military researchers are thinking about now.

“You could also contemplate altering humans so they could see in the infrared or the ultraviolet range, as some animals can do. Such enhancements would be ideal for troops fighting at night or in other hostile conditions.”

Equity, Climate Crisis, and Safety are the clarion calls—and siren song—of the technocratic roll-out of ethical human heritable gene editing.

And given the relative lack of pushback from average citizens, it appears that the leap from aggressive genetic designing of animal and plant life, to heritable human genetic modification, will be taking off officially very soon. 

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