I had a fascinating conversation on stage this year at #sxsw with Riccardo Sabatini, scientist and entrepreneur and one of the most talked about TED speakers this year. As a scientist Riccardo focuses on the facts, rather than going too much into predicting the future, and shared with us his support on the moratorium on the gene editing in humans.
Here are a few facts from our conversation:
- We can now predict a human face, body height, weight, eye color and race from a single drop of blood. That was the focus of Riccardo’s TED talk this year. He showed us the level of accuracy showing his face predicted from his DNA, and even if he pointed at the limitations of the model, the results are impressive. Wait a few weeks and the TED talk will be online.
- Sequencing our complete genome helps to identify diseases we are likely to have, or might already have without our knowledge. Sequencing your DNA costs a little more than $1000 today (from $100 million when Craig Venter did it for the first time 15 years ago). Do you want to know that you have a high probability of getting Alzheimer in your 70s? It’s really scary for sure. Yet, there are a number of new businesses working on personalized medicine that may be able to deliver a tailored cure just for you in the near future. How our body reaction to cancer also seem`s to have a genetic component.
-Tens of thousands of human’s DNA is being sequenced and stored and patterns or groups with certain characteristics are starting to emerge. Here are a few we talked about:
- There is a group of humans with a similar DNA code who are completely immune to HIV.
- A certain group has stronger bones (that comes along with an overgrowth of teeth unfortunately!)
- Certain populations with similar DNA patterns have underwater vision.
I’m not a scientist but based on what I heard here are a few of MY predictions.
More than 25 years of additional life expectancy.
Not so long ago the invention and acceptance of antibiotics increased our life expectancy by more than 20 years. We might be on the verge of increasing life expectancy by another 25 years, thanks to the data we are collecting from the human genome. What will our society look like when we can all live more than 100 years?
Giving birth in a traditional way will be the exception.
Identifying diseases in-vitro is already common for obvious reasons. Selecting the sex of the child is happening more and more. Today women are having kids thru anonymous donors and men are having kids through surrogates. In both cases they can select the background of the donor: college degree, athletic ability, eye and hair color, etc.
The Menu Approach
We will be able to predict so many characteristics such as his or her face, voice, etc. In the near future you might be presented with say, 10 embryos and a 3D simulation on what they will look and sound like when they are twenty years old. This one will be tall, with blue eyes and immune from cancer. The next will be blonde, with green eyes and likely very athletic. Which one would you like?
For a few thousand more, you can add a “super-power.”
We already know that certain groups of humans have some “super-powers” such as better night vision, minimal sleep requirements, stronger bones, immunization to HIV, etc.
Human gene editing is possible and already happening (see this experiment in China). Why can’t we imagine a future where not only will you be presented a choice of 10 embryos for your future children, but also options to improve them. Let’s add better night vision. Let’s edit the genes to increase the chances of a successful kid.
In the future, our children might be upset if we did not chose to give them certain “super-powers,” as their friends will have them. They will be better in school and have major advantages to succeed in life. Those whose parents did not elect to improve their children will be at a severe disadvantage and might become the minority.
What will our species become in the long run if we start selecting every embryo? Won’t we all start merging from the same characteristics? Athletic, smarter, taller, you name it.
Scary? It might happen faster than we all think and we should get ready for it.
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