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Genetically Enhanced Humans: A Possible Future

written by: Darlene Zagata•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 6/30/2009

Genetically enhanced humans may sound like something out of science fiction but it may be closer to science fact than most of us would imagine. Consider the possibilities and the moral implications. Can you imagine humans with the hearing of a dog, the eyesight of a cat, and the speed of a cheetah?

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    The Concept

    The concept of genetically enhanced humans is not a new one. It has been a central idea in the imagination of human beings for quite some time. We’ve seen plenty of evidence of that in books and movies throughout the years. But will it ever become a reality? Some believe that it will. There are scientists and laymen alike who believe that if we can make better humans, we should.

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    Genetic Engineering Potential

    Genetic engineering could be used in many positive ways such as increasing longevity and curing medical conditions. There is great promise in genetic engineering that perhaps one day disease will no longer exist, and the ageing process can be slowed down. Physical defects can be prevented and those who have lost a limb may even be able to grow a new one. There’s already talk of designer babies. Imagine being able to pick and choose the type of child you want. It does take away the element of surprise though. Perhaps selective screening of embryos for specific traits could create the perfect humans, but in the end would our quest for perfection make us less human? The idea of designer babies is abhorrent to many and the pros and cons of human genetic engineering are debated passionately.

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    Genetics Research

    In a paper on Human Genetic Enhancement on Bioethics.gov, it states that directed genetic change of somatic cells would affect only the individual involved, however directed genetic change of germ-line cells has the potential to affect all the descendants of that individual. The same paper mentions the introduction of the gene IGF-1 into muscle cells to increase muscle strength, health and efficiency. Although techniques would be developed to treat diseases such as muscular dystrophy, there would no doubt be interest in using such techniques to increase athletic performance and enhance physical attractiveness.

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    Differences

    The National Human Genome Research Institute defines the term genetic enhancement as the effort to make someone not just well, but better than well by optimizing attributes or capabilities. It states that when the goal is enhancement, genes may be supplemented or engineered to bring about the desired enhancement.

    Variants in DNA explain why we are all different. We vary in appearance, behavior and personality. Those differences make us unique individuals. We all share similarities as well. We are all susceptible to disease, the ravages of aging and a finite lifespan. Is it wrong to want to improve the human condition? No, it is not. But we must keep in mind that even the best intentions sometimes have disastrous results.