As genetic screening becomes increasingly advanced and personal genomes become more commonplace, the potential for genetic engineering and modern eugenics is becoming a reality. “Designer babies” may not be science fiction forever, creating an ethical dilemna on the horizon.
Hsein-Hsein keeps us informed on personalized sequencing companies that are coming out, including 23andMe, deCODEme, and Navigenics, and now the first whole genome squencing company, Knome. The goal for some is to one day sequence genomes for $1000, putting it within the reach of average consumers.
What are the benefits to personal genomics?
Certainly, no one has an objection to programs like Dor Yeshorim, which is a program which seeks to reduce the incidence of Tay-Sachs disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Canavan disease, Fanconi anemia, Familial Dysautonomia, Glycogen storage disease, Bloom’s Syndrome, Gaucher Disease, Niemann-Pick Disease, and Mucolipidosis IV among certain Jewish communities.
Genetic engineering of humans to better survive space travel may also be an ethical possibility, if it’s needed. For instance, could we make ourselves better suited to endure weightlessness and cosmic irradiation during interstellar transit?
Those are the prime benefits. What about the caveats though?
Could personal genetic information be used against individuals? There’s the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) to protect us there.
Could individuals themselves abuse personal genetic information? The technology for creating designer babies remains a long way off, at the very least. But what if we could? Would we be tempted to shape our children to our ideals?
What will people do with this brave new genetic determinism? Hopefully not start to ascribe all of their hopes and woes to their genes; referring to ourselves as merely the sum total of our genes is a gross oversimplification.
Right now though, personalized genetics is at the forefront of innovation against inheritable diseases. The Knome launch is exciting, and even a little surreal, to those of us who remember just 15 years ago, when the sequencing of one genome was thought to be a far-off dream of fiction.