The Present Author will repeat a maxim he's uttered for decades now, which is still on track to prove out:
"Bio-Technology will impact the 21st century to the same degree that computer technology impacted the 20th."
Don't look now, but it's well on its way already! And let's be perfectly clear up front: I want it to happen. I think we're on the cusp of an exciting leap in science, a pathway to augment the building blocks of our biology, and I think we should embrace it. I want clones, GMOs, bio-hacking, genetically engineered super-beings, replicants, Jurassic Park, gene-editing, and genetic human enhancement. No, I'm not afraid of the consequences - we will have something squirmy get loose for a while at some point, no doubt, but I'm willing to take that risk ten times over rather than turn our backs on the progress we've made up until now.
Let's back up a bit because the backlash against biotech has fired up before biotech has even gotten started…
Here We Go With The Monkeys Again…
Chinese scientists are in the hot seat again, after cloning a monkey deliberately gene-edited with a mental illness. They started with a monkey genetically altered to be more prone to a mental defect related to various psychological illnesses, then cloned it five times to study the result.
Predictably, the experiment has provoked outrage and been described as "monstrous" by animal rights activists. Yeah, I'm sorry guys… I love cute cuddly animals as much as the next person and don't condone unnecessary cruelty to anything, but in this case, I'm on the scientist's side. If we're going to get anywhere towards solving the hundreds of diseases with no cure that plague humanity, we have gotta start somewhere.
Those monkeys are no worse off than the thousands of humans walking around with those same mental issues and no cure. Compared to the human suffering, we'd be fortunate if we had a factory with a conveyor belt cranking out a hundred crazy monkeys per day. Maybe then we'd find a cure for a change. Never underestimate the power of infinite test subjects.
This is the same Chinese scientist who got outraged worldwide reactions against his claim of having tweaked the genes of live human embryos, born as twin girls. A Standford bio-ethicist denounced the experiment as "criminally reckless."
Yeah, let me tell you what's criminally reckless there, baby:
Nature Is One Big Bio-Hacking Circus Already
We need to let go of this idea that our DNA is enshrined in golden microscopic temples transcripted by angels in heaven under God's dictation. We also need to put aside this idea that life, as created by ovaries and testicles, is sacred and above reproach.
Your genes - yes, YOURS! - have already been edited many times, in an event we call "catching a cold." Eight percent of the human genome is viral DNA, left over from viruses we caught millions of years ago. Infecting your DNA is a common strategy in the virus world, to the extent that retroviruses use DNA as their main means of spreading around.
Add that to the pile of other things that change your DNA: Everything in your environment during childhood, including your socioeconomic status, the absence of a parent, how much you were breastfed, when you were born, and what microbes you were exposed to. Chronic stress, diet, and exercise also edit your DNA.
What if you sit there in an isolated clean room and do absolutely nothing? You're still subject to plain old time, which also sorts your genes out as you age. And if you somehow manage to stop the process of time while, you know, going on breathing and such, some changes in DNA are up to cosmic radiation. Yes, the universe will just randomly zap your DNA with a neutron even though you're standing there minding your own business.
Eons of this cosmic billiards game with the building blocks of life have produced the effect that 75% of our total DNA is useless line noise. It does nothing, just static.
Let's be perfectly frank: Duh, it's obvious that DNA can be altered without human intervention, which is how we got humans in the first place. This is how evolution happened and we're not all blobs of primordial jelly bobbing in the ocean. The rest is up to selective breeding - you know how you choose a mate based on how tall they are or their eye color? Well, you just cemented your future babies' DNA, and you probably did it with a few beers and a tequila shot informing the process.
When we alter DNA, we're doing the exact same thing the universe has been doing since there was DNA. But the universe does it haphazardly, willy-nilly, with no direction, which is how sometimes you get a two-headed snake. Do you see how happy we get when we find some natural mutation? That's how we should react when human scientists give us a cool new thing like a cat that glows green in the dark. At least scientists are less cruel than nature. We need to do this so we can make chickens that lay cancer-treating eggs.
We basically have an entire Willy Wonka factory's worth of genetic wonders in front of us already, and yet all we do is complain.
GMO Denial: Like Blowing Up Willy Wonka's Factory
After years of conflict, the USDA is finally labeling "GMO" foods. That distinction, as the Genetic Literacy Project (bless 'em!) points out, is meaningless. The acronym "GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)" should make you sicker than any GMO thing you could eat, because there is no such thing as an organism that ISN'T genetically modified! The same litany of things that affect human DNA also affects the DNA of everything else, and in addition, we've already been genetically modifying animals and plants for thousands of years through a process we call - wait for it - selective breeding!
What, did you think all the produce in your supermarket was born that way in the wild?
Look at all this produce and tell me with a straight face we didn't modify its genetics:
Same thing with all our livestock and all our domesticated pets, for that matter, because it's a little hard to see how a Great Dane and a Chihuahua could be related without human intervention:
We could go on all day. The fact is, genetic modification is pretty much the whole reason we can feed as many people as we do right now. Everybody reading this has been eating GMOs their entire life, unless you're living the exclusive hunter-gatherer lifestyle, in which case, how can you access the Internet way out there?
The backlash against GMOs is born of good old American trailer-park ignorance, which is why the GMO-labeling controversy has been another Facebook topic right alongside the anti-vax movement.
Which, by the way, the anti-vax movement is yet another backlash against healthier living through science. It's gotten so bad recently that a teenager had to wait until his eighteenth birthday to get vaccinated without his parents' permission, and a wife of a top Trump aide just went on the record saying measles is good for you!
Yes, I repeat, WE NOW HAVE MEASLES ADVOCATES. This is a thing that is happening. We went there. Over 100K people, mostly children, DIED of measles in 2017 alone, and the US Republican party gives that two thumbs up! Loyal legions of Republicans will now run out lapping the floor of bathrooms in hospitals in the hopes of picking up measles so they can die for the glory of their Grand Old Party. We hope.
There Are Human Clones In Your Future
In our lifetime, fledgling attempts at the genetic alteration of humans have already happened. The funny thing about biotech is that it's so hard to control; by the time somebody swaps a couple genes around in an ovum, the result is already walking around before the news breaks. As the New York Times puts it: "Maybe there are more - no one knows for sure." It's going to keep happening that way because we don't have a cop standing and watching each doctor in every laboratory.
CRISPR is the hot new gene-editing technology that has the biotech industry in a buzz. Forgive the butchering of advanced scientific concepts when we say that it's basically Photoshop for genes.
The bottom line is that it doesn't matter how much humanity collectively panics about human gene-editing and bio-engineering: Somebody, somewhere, is going to do it. It is just too easy to do! All it takes is for some third-world despot to crave building an army of supersoldiers… a grieving family with a desire to resurrect a replica of their dearly departed… a royal bloodline looking to free itself of the curse of inherited hemophilia… a space scientist who wonders if we could bio-hack our way to a superior astronaut… a UFO cult with funding…
Or it takes a Human Longevity project. Human Longevity, Inc., is a biotech firm that is compiling a database of DNA to find ways to extend the human lifespan. When their research bears results, do we embrace it and tinker the human genome into a breed of super-humans, or do we shut it down and go back to the primordial ooze?
We're gonna have to answer that question pretty damn fast. We have backyard biohackers who are eagerly offering themselves up as test subjects, such as Dave Asprey, who just turned in for the most extensive stem cell treatment anyone has undergone to date and says he feels just fine.
I want that to happen! I want to be vaccinated, everybody around me to be vaccinated, and I want advanced medical treatments to keep everyone healthy and alive forever. Think of it, we have never had the opportunity to talk to a 300-year-old person. I want better genetically engineered produce and meats. I want mankind to bridge the final frontier of science and take over where nature left off. All the other miracles we've accomplished in other scientific pursuits, these pale in comparison to the bio-hacking possibilities, in a field that's still in its infancy.
We're going to have to have a few cloned mutated monkeys along the way. Sorry, but that's a fiddling price to pay!