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Lane: Not exactly designer babies

BY JOE LANE | FEBRUARY 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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Last week, the UK House of Commons voted heavily in favor of allowing scientists to create babies from the DNA of three people. Should the House of Lords approve the bill, the United Kingdom would become the first country to allow genetic modification of embryos.

The purpose of the law is to protect children from inheriting mitochondrial defects from their mothers that can result in diseases including, but not limited to, heart, kidney, and liver failure.

When I first received this news, my mind immediately flashed to advanced-placement biology. Amid a plethora of knowledge so vast that I had trouble remembering anything from other classes was the fictional movie Gattaca.

The film tells the story of a young man with the desire for space travel. However, because he was born on the edge of a time when genetically modified babies became the norm, he had not been modified to eliminate negative characteristics and implant positive ones. Thus, he was considered of a lower class and forbidden from space travel.

Every time a story of genetically modified embryos enters the popular media, the first thought in many peoples’ minds is that humans are playing too large of a role in their evolution. And while the headline of this story first induced this fear for me, the facts of this story have converted me to a proponent.

John Manak, a UI associate professor of biology, said, “To me, this is kind of a no-brainer; you’re basically correcting a fundamental genetic defect without manipulating the actual nuclear DNA, which is solely responsible for controlling who that individual will become.”

In the quest for bettering the human race through genetics, it was simply a matter of time before genetic manipulation of embryos became a possibility.

The fear persists in many; however, that this legislation is a slippery slope toward a world of genetically modified humans. The important thing is to take this step in genetics research for what it is and not what it may become.

As Manak said, “In a sense, what we’re doing is providing — similar to when you do an organ transplant — the means for allowing sustenance and development of the individual affected with the disorder.”

At its core, this procedure is similar to a transplant. And like transplants before it, it is the obligation of the medical and scientific communities to do their best to save and benefit the lives of the humans with the science of the time.

Rather than changing humans from one form to another through nuclear DNA manipulation, this procedure simply allows for life.

Despite my lingering fears of “designer babies,” I agree with Manak when he says, “I would certainly hope that it would come to the U.S., provided that the procedure is deemed safe and effective.”

So long as a separation exists between the intentions of human genetics to sustain life and the creation of genetically superior individuals, embryonic genetic manipulation is a good thing.

While I find myself wishing, almost daily, that I was just a few inches taller, I wouldn’t give up who I am today for that opportunity. The culmination of our physical appearances, personality, and experiences is what makes us who we are. And although these limitations may present us with adversity, they are also often the cause of advancement in the human race.


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