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Rewriting our DNA promises amazing benefits, experts say
Dick Pelletier   Dec 30, 2013   Ethical Technology  

What if you could improve memory and intelligence, and live in an ageless body – just by taking a pill? Though this may sound like the stuff of science fiction, experts are developing a better understanding of our genetic mysteries, including the powerful influence that DNA wields on our lives.

 It's becoming clear that cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity; most mental disorders, and many other ailments, could all be the result of a clash between genes we inherited from our past, and today's modern environment.

    Our ancestors lived when food was scarce. They were always searching for hard-to-come-by calories and would store them in their body for future use. Today, most of us have plenty of food, but our genes keep telling us to eat. Rewriting some of these genes could change our eating habits, directing us to eat only when necessary. In addition, we could even instill selective tastes for healthier foods.

    Imagine if you never felt hungry unless your body required nutrition, and you craved fresh vegetables and other healthy foods; and felt a strong dislike for sugary, fat 'junk' foods. Say goodbye to obesity, diabetes, and a multitude of other problems caused by bad diets.

    We could do the same with sunlight and vitamin D. Many suffer because they live on the wrong part of the planet. Early humans in Africa had dark skin to block radiation. Those who migrated from the equator grew lighter skin, allowing radiation to penetrate the body and produce vitamin D, which helps prevent cancer and other illnesses. Altering DNA could help those suffering from too much or too little sunlight.

    Genes not only show predisposition for disease, they also create tastes and aptitudes, like curiosity, ambition, and empathy – traits that control who we become in life. In a New York Times article, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker predicted that; "One day we will identify genes that incline a person to being nasty or nice, an egghead or a doer, a sad sack or a blithe spirit."

    Most people approve genetic procedures in children and adults, but when it comes to changing genes in embryos, some say we're playing God. Conservative ethicists warn that this may lead to 'designer babies' with desirable traits involving height, intelligence and skin color. Proponents however, believe that this technology would eliminate nearly every disease. All bad genes could be replaced by good genes.

    Oxford University Professor Julian Savulescu believes creating so-called designer babies might be considered a "moral obligation" as it makes them grow up into "ethically better children." In a recent Telegraph article, this ethics expert said that we should actively give parents the choice to screen out personality flaws in their children as it meant they were then less likely to "harm themselves and others."

    For Savulescu, having the ability to improve our species but refusing to do so, makes little sense. He has a difficult time understanding why some people are so insistent that we shouldn't try to improve human evolution. Positive futurists add; 'Can you imagine our ape ancestors getting together and saying, 'this is pretty good, guys. Let's stop it right here!' That's the equivalent of what some people say today.

    As genetics and molecular biology become more of a game-changing science, the following genetic features will become more acceptable as we trek through the future:

1. Alter taste buds to make healthy foods enjoyable, unhealthy ones undesirable
2. Don't blame your genes; change them
3. Be happy: Your genes may thank you for it
4. Programming genes to extend lifespan

    Re-writing DNA could alter our lives almost beyond our wildest expectations. Cal Tech Professor and Nobel Laureate David Baltimore predicts: "Eventually gene therapies will become commonplace. This amazing medical technology will help us decide who we want to be as conscious beings."

    Savulescu makes this final comment, "Whether we like it or not, the future of humanity is in our hands. Rather than fear genetics, we should embrace it. We can do better than chance." Any thoughts, readers?

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.

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