The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

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jseah
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby jseah » Tue Feb 24, 2015 5:50 am UTC

ucim wrote:To whom would it be useful? That's the question that needs asking. If it's useful to those in charge of the technology, then it will be pursued. What are useful traits in other people, as seen by a large corporation or government that develops and markets genetic techniques? Docility, trust, and obedience come to mind. We'd be easier to govern, easier to market to, but perhaps we would not stand up as well in a fight (against The Enemy Of The Year).

That is, if it's that simple. Which it won't be.

That is just a touch melodramatic. I doubt such things will be at all coordinated. You'd have a thousand and one companies all trying to make their own gene patch.

There are a few failure modes I can think of in a zero regulation free for all.
1. Parents want children with specific behavioural traits. And then getting all sue happy when it turns out people personalities aren't deterministic.
2. Parents want children with traits that are considered undesirable by society. Eg. Children without the Westermark effect. Or in less 'evil genius' fashion, children who are docile or share some family disability. (What, you think everyone is going to want to improve their children? )
3. Private groups want children with specific traits. Eg military sponsoring gene patches increasing emotional detachment or increased loyalty.

Your hypothetical is most similar to number 3 but it doesn't exist in a vacuum.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby HungryHobo » Tue Feb 24, 2015 11:01 am UTC

since there's evidence that susceptibility to religiosity and religious salience has a genetic component I can imagine churches convincing their followers to enhance such traits in their children.


http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/ ... sr089.full
http://www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/biology-o ... twin-study
http://midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/1268.pdf
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Chen » Tue Feb 24, 2015 12:40 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:One slightly depressing thought is that the kind of modifications you'd need to make to boost intelligence aren't a world away from the kind you'd need to do to prevent a number of unpleasant conditions like schizophrenia and autism: each have hundreds of variants believed to contribute to risk (since they're strongly selected against any single variant which contributed a lot of risk tended to die out within a couple of generations)

So as mentioned earlier, I agree, it'll be a long time before we can boost intelligence but it may be preceded by treatments for autism and schizophrenia using whatever techniques get discovered for dealing with those. It would


Why is this depressing? Isn't this a good thing? It seems you cut off the end of your post too so maybe there's an aspect of this thought I'm missing.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby addams » Wed Feb 25, 2015 4:40 am UTC

Our efforts might be best spent in encouraging people to use the hardware they have intelligently.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby HungryHobo » Wed Feb 25, 2015 9:03 pm UTC

Chen wrote:
Why is this depressing? Isn't this a good thing? It seems you cut off the end of your post too so maybe there's an aspect of this thought I'm missing.


it's because the earlier poster was almost certainly correct that those kinds of interventions are likely to be insanely hard.That even if all we want to do is cure horrible diseases the barriers are huge.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby jseah » Sun May 24, 2015 9:01 am UTC

Pardon me if this is considered necro-ing, but there's been a significant development in the field: (more apologies if it's already posted elsewhere)
Puping Liang et al.
http://link.springer.com/article/10.100 ... 015-0153-5

Attempts CRISPR-Cas9 editing in abnormal human embryos targeting β-thalassaemia. Finds there are serious obstacles to performing CRISPR on human embryos.

jseah wrote:Would not be surprised to see trials of human intelligence enchancement being technically feasible within 20 years, inheritable SNP diseases? I give it 5. At least once I read about CRISPR and understood that we no longer need to be able to clone humans in order to gene-engineer them.

You know when I said 5 years? Looks to be on track... I know, Junjiu Huang's technique is not feasible for attempting SNP corrections. But there is room for optimization and there are already groups working on it. Not just Chinese groups too.

Of course, this sparks a debate in many journals and articles. Many of these articles hint at more papers and other research groups having already attempted embryo modifications or in the process of doing so.

Lots of links:
Spoiler:
Last edited by jseah on Sun May 24, 2015 4:36 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun May 24, 2015 1:45 pm UTC

Yeah, this was kind of shocking, more so that they were willing to try it. The success rate of altered 'embryos' was super low, and there were a ton of off target effects.

One of the things that's worth pointing out about CRISPR-Cas9 is that it's a complicated system compared to a lot of other tools that exist - not surprisingly, most of the improvements to it's use over the last 5 years or so have been clever combinatorial tricks leading to improvements with it's efficacy/capacities over, say, fine tuning it's dosage.
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jseah
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby jseah » Sun May 24, 2015 4:40 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Yeah, this was kind of shocking, more so that they were willing to try it.

I don't see it as shocking that this was tried. It's a large world and not everyone subscribes to the same ethical system as the western countries.

Heck, even in the western countries like US, I'm willing to bet you could find a scientist willing to investigate this given some research funds. Even I'd be willing to give it a shot if there's money. (starting from learning how to work with fertilized eggs) The opportunity and prizes are just too juicy to pass up. The reason why you don't find them is that funds for this sort of thing is obviously close to non-existent in the US/EU.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Spleen » Sun Aug 02, 2015 5:46 am UTC

Nor am I shocked by that idea jseah.
The only thing that would be considered shocking is that some boards of directors etc, do not even allow research in the genetic cause of a number of illnesses because there then would be a potential risk we might make a study coming up with a GM cure later on.
Which in turn would make it possible for parents then to demand that their unborn child be given the treatment.

However, the genie is already out of the bottle with the genetic screening of the foetuses, its just done more inefficiently that way.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby qetzal » Sun Aug 02, 2015 1:23 pm UTC

Spleen wrote:The only thing that would be considered shocking is that some boards of directors etc, do not even allow research in the genetic cause of a number of illnesses because there then would be a potential risk we might make a study coming up with a GM cure later on.
Which in turn would make it possible for parents then to demand that their unborn child be given the treatment.


Huh? Citation, please?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, because that doen't make sense. If you come up with a cure for a genetic illness, you can sell it for profits, which is what boards of directors definitely want. (At least in for-profit companies. I suppose you could be correct about boards for some ideologically motivated non-profit research foundations, but such groups are quite minor players in research funding.)

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Spleen » Sun Aug 02, 2015 4:28 pm UTC

@quetzal: I am sorry, but I do hope you go the gist even though you got a bit of hyperbole there. And from your question I guess you're not located in the EU or USA so I will give some examples. :)

So even though a bit exaggerated to make my point, it is still quite close to the actual situation we got right now in the research sector in the western hemisphere - where I have a few direct insights - and this have been covered in a long list of newspaper articles.

And talking about such, I remember that several organisations for handicapped people in various countries have been screaming blue murder over the potential chance or risk that there will be no children born with their personal handicap eradicated and no more born such in the future!
(Yes they seriously have been advocating that kids must be born with exactly the same conditions as they got. Yes amazing but true, and they used some very strong language to make their point comparing it to events that happened about 60 years ago. And a number of PC politicians parroted their remarks.)

So now that were looking at EU there's a general unease there about GM crops as well. Just imagine the reaction that might come if the same technique would be applied to humans, it could very well have the governments come out doing the pitchforks and torches thing even before the cure is finished, therefore commercial entities don't dare to put in any significant resources for such research even though part of the job already been done by universities.

So yes, its about ideology, but not among the commercial research, but rather their concern over shareholders reaction etc should the local or international legislation suddenly change and the money and work they put into such suddenly would be deemed illegal so they cannot pursue the research any longer.
As for the USA quite a list of states have statutes banning therapeutic cloning on humans already, and also embryonic research.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby jseah » Mon Aug 03, 2015 12:06 am UTC

Spleen wrote:(Yes they seriously have been advocating that kids must be born with exactly the same conditions as they got. Yes amazing but true, and they used some very strong language to make their point comparing it to events that happened about 60 years ago. And a number of PC politicians parroted their remarks.)

Citation? I'm curious about their argument.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby qetzal » Mon Aug 03, 2015 2:18 pm UTC

Spleen,

Actually, I am in the US. And, having worked for roughly a decade in human gene therapy and closely related fields, I like to think I have some insight here as well. :)

I completely agree that US & EU research organizations don't want to get involved in embryonic or germ-line genetic modifications. Most researchers agree that it would be highly unethical, given our current state of knowledge & capability. And besides, as you note, it's generally illegal.

I was reacting to your claim that some boards of directors, etc., don't even want to identify genetic causes of disease, for fear that it would lead to embryonic or germ-line gene therapy. There may be a few of those, but I submit they are in the tiny minority. I'd be interested in any specific examples you may have.

Regarding patient groups, I'm aware that some deaf communities value their non-verbal culture and object to the idea of "curing" deafness. (Do you know of other examples? Dwarfism, perhaps?) However, I submit again that this applies to only a small minority of conditions. I don't think there are any cystic fibrosis communities that would object to being cured. Same for communities with early-onset Parkinson's, or hemophilia, or SCID, or a thousand other genetic conditions.

Even so, I think there are few if any single gene conditions where embryonic GM would routinely be the best solution. In most cases, I think it would be much better to do in vitro fertilization & then screen embryos pre-implantation to identify ones that don't carry the genetic defect. That won't work in every case - such as if both partners are homozygous for a deleterious allele, but such situations will be uncommon (except for X-linked diseases, I suppose).

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Spleen » Sun Aug 09, 2015 6:32 am UTC

@jseah: I am lazy, so you google that yourself, I give a hint for you to get started though, some of those protesters were found in the UK (heard on BBC world) and Sweden (SVT).

@qetzal: Oh you're way ahead of me then, I am in a related field, but close enough that the we've debated this matter a few times.
I do have an opinion though, and that is that it is highly unethical not to try giving a child the best start in life it could possibly get.

Yes you pinpointed one there, the deaf communities were among the protesters, there were also one in a wheelchair - but the condition were not identified. Who protested on the grounds that if there would be a future methodology to cure his disease, then society would no longer find it necessary to provide ramps and parking spots. The entire argument by that person a circulus in probando.

Oh there might be some of those directors who want to do the research if asked, but my point is that they wont spend money on it - for reasons already mentioned.

As for screening of the amniotic liquid, it is done in a long list of countries, if and when a defect is spotted they abort and either try again if it's a recessive trait.
If one of the parents happen to be carrier of a dominant gene it should be quite obvious and such parents have been discouraged from having children even though the eugenics programs were discontinued (in many cases and countries at or around the 1970's), the idea have still lived on in some regions among MD's and only kept a bit covert.

So before anyone ask, the idea of eugenics gives me the shivers, whereas I give a thumbs up to the idea of providing GM treatment to a human foetus.
Since the latter will let all kinds of people live on and contribute to both genetically and culturally, only correcting a trait where the genetic mechanisms have failed in one way or other - whereas the former (covert or not) intended to remove certain lineages and ethnic groups entirely.
(In the USA, some native tribes were targeted by the eugenics program, also Hispanics. In Australia the same program targeted the Aborigines, in Scandinavia arctic natives and gypsies, this list could be made quite longer.)

I think the reason for the debate is that some people, even some quite intelligent one, confuse these two.
So that's why we discuss the ethics of GM also here, but they're not two sides of the same coin, (and can not even be considered to be of the same currency) since GM allow us to preserve human variety, whereas eugenics most often have intended to create a monoculture with traits considered to be 'superior' at the time. And anyone who have the slightest knowledge in biology know why a monoculture is a bad thing that should be avoided at any cost!
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby qetzal » Sun Aug 09, 2015 11:32 pm UTC

If your point is that directors won't spend money to ID genetic causes of diseases, for fear that will lead to people demanding genetic fixes for those diseases, I think you're wrong. There may be someone somewhere who's taken that position, but I don't believe it's a real issue.

As for screening, I wasn't talking about amniotic fluid. I was talking about screening IVF embryos in a dish, prior to implantation, to ensure that only embryos lacking the genetic "defect" are implanted.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Aug 10, 2015 12:03 am UTC

Spleen wrote:@jseah: I am lazy, so you google that yourself
Too lazy to provide even one link or specific detail, but not too lazy to type 500 words without any specific details...
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