Hollywood movies or thriller sci-fi novels, genetically engineered humans are always a hit. Who can forget X-men series? But, the concept is not limited to books or cinemas anymore.
Conference halls around the world are witnessing discussions over once impossible genetic engineering to change the future of human beings. The biologists and geneticists involved in these discussions are considering genetic engineering to cure fatal illness and even to manufacture stronger, smarter and infection prone designer kids. In short, they are trying to produce superhumans through genetic engineering
To understand genetic engineering, we have to understand the difference between gene therapy and enhancement. Technically, both relate to the same field but there are basic differences.
Gene therapy is about introducing a gene into a patient struggling with any genetic illness. This alteration may either cure the disorder or slow down its progress. In most of the cases, the added gene would produce the protein that is missing or not functioning properly due to genetic inheritance.
China has already edited the DNA and modified the human embryo making it prone to fatal blood disease thalassemia. The world’s first project, researchers at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou changed the DNA from a human embryo. As per them, those embryos were not feasible and could never result in human babies. They used the embryos from fertility clinics, but with an added set of chromosomes, and then fertilized them by two different sperms, making unfit to become life. They injected 86 embryos with Cas 9 protein and left them for two days to allow the gene editing. Survived only 71, out of which 54 were tested genetically. British scientists asked the team to stop the progress for an international agreement that the experiments are ethical and safe. The practice is already banned in Europe and 28 other countries. So, some critics also warned China and called for a worldwide ban on related experiments.
The Chinese research team, led by Junjiu Huang used CRISPR/Cas9, a gene engineering technology developed by MIT scientists. CRISPR uses a bacteria-derived protein meant to snip out a particular gene and introducing a different molecule at the same time. Scientists favoring genetic engineering states that it could eradicate the genetically transferred diseases. Others are worrying because it will result in genetically engineered kids and the same genes will transfer to future generations.
Huang and his team are trying to use the same procedure on single-cell fertilized human embryo so that all the cells in resulting embryo will have enhanced genes. Just like germline engineering which can change every cell in human body. People will not be a mix of genes from their parents. If we believe the reports, biologists in China are working on the same so that they can correct problematic genes, change few of them or add some extra to create superhumans through genetic engineering. This way, we will take our evolution in our own hands and will be ready to make children of the future.
Image Source : i.dailymail.co.uk
On the other hand, enhancement is making a healthy human, more human by giving more power, smartness, intelligence or any other desired character. Captain America – Anyone? Maybe all of us.
Last year, China also unveiled a technology to create super humans by breeding genetically engineered SUPER DOG. This dog is muscular, stronger and faster in comparison to their natural counterparts.
They named it Little Long Long. It was “manufactured” by removing a gene called myostatin, giving double mass and strength to the LLL.
Canine gene editing is relatively hard to study or engineer but has similarity to human gene alteration. Now, they have created a tube tested dog, chances are to produce superhumans through genetic engineering as well.
Scientists have indicated that these genetically developed dogs would be assigned to serve police officers.
Apart from LLL, there is another example of a genetically engineered animal, Dolly, the sheep. She was born in 1996 and died in 2003. She got a life of six years, nearly half from an average Finn Dorset sheep.
Real life superheroes with mutation
Image Source : cdn1-www.comingsoon.net
Our capabilities are limited, we all agree on that. We cannot clear an army with metal claws like Wolverine. But, mutants in the real world exist and they have their own superpowers as s result of genetic mutation.
A gene LRP5 makes an impact on certain cell processes, especially cell development. People who gain mutation in this gene have bulkier and denser bones reducing their chances of breaking bones. Tim Dreyer from Johannesburg South Africa has the same mutation and he can walk away from accidents that break several bones of a normal human.
No pain for mutants
SCN9A is a gene causing insensitivity to pain. A person with a mutation on this gene will not feel any pain, even if their bones will break. Steven Pete of Washington chewed his tongue once without even realizing it.
A gene creates a protein called Myostatin, which limits muscle growth. Mutation in this gene results in bigger and better muscles. An individual with the mutation can be the flagship of real life super heroes.
Known as the rubber boy, Daniel browning smith from Mississippi can turn his torso 180 degrees. He has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which makes the connective tissues very stretchy and flexible.
Can scientists make superhumans through genetic engineering?
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats aka CRISPR allows the scientists to edit DNA from any genome. CRISPR/Cas 9 protein gives them the same ability with better precision. The technology continues to grow and we can see a few other techniques apart from Cas 9 that will be more precise to replace human genome.
We love superheroes, whether in books or in movies. But, with CRISPR accuracy, it could be real in the future. Maybe you will be able to add night vision, danger sniffing technique of Spiderman to your traits or you want to become the Incredible Hulk? Let’s see, what the future holds.
It will early to say anything whether scientists can create superhumans through genetic engineering because we are unaware of the exact potential of the human genome to create superpowers. But after the cloning of dogs, one can say that we are one step closer to create children of the future.