Author Topic: What's the worst that could happen?  (Read 3958 times)

TheDrake

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What's the worst that could happen?
« on: November 26, 2018, 08:35:44 AM »
Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies

At first, I thought that this was a typical media overreach when reporting science. Then I realized that this is coming from Technology Review, one of the best hard science outlets affiliated with MIT.

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According to Chinese medical documents posted online this month (here and here), a team at the Southern University of Science and Technology, in Shenzhen, has been recruiting couples in an effort to create the first gene-edited babies. They planned to eliminate a gene called CCR5 in hopes of rendering the offspring resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera.

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...data submitted as part of the trial listing shows that genetic tests have been carried out on fetuses as late as 24 weeks, or six months. It’s not known if those pregnancies were terminated, carried to term, or are ongoing.

I'm not deeply concerned about this, ethically. I do have concerns about enhancements, which they are currently insisting they would not do. Even just looking at something benign like athletics, it seems more likely that this would happen in China than anywhere else. Which parents wouldn't agree to help the State, especially if it might hurt their credit rating to refuse? Or if they are just desperate enough, economically?

LetterRip

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2018, 09:27:53 AM »
They are knocking out a receptor on white blood cells (many viruses enter the body via attaching to receptors, but most of the most widespread viruses enter through fairly critical receptors so this approach isn't generally worthwhile).   The main risk appears to be that this receptor plays a role in 'quieting' the immune system after an immune response finishes - so their immune systems could 'overreact' to other viral or bacterial infections.

The idea of editing CCR5 has been discussed by other scientists, so the idea isn't new, it is someone deciding that the risks are worth it.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4581584/

I think CRISPR gene editing is inevitable so this doesn't really 'freak me out'.  Probably within a generation it will be common to do some sort of CRISPR editing of your offsprings genes to eliminate a disease or enhance health or intellect.  So yes 'GATTACA' is coming.

Personally rather than doing CCR5 knockout, I'd be interested in reactivating theta-defensins.  Somewhere in evolutionary history we (great apes) had a missense mutation that lost theta-defensins - an 'antimicrobial peptide' produced by the body by 'old-world primates' that protects against a variety microbes including retroviruses.  We have the gene present for it, but have a 'pre-mature stop codon' so it never becomes coded to protein.  Our body secrete defensins along the epithelial surfaces (skin, GI tract, urinary tract, eyes) as one of the first line defenses against microbial pathogens.  So restoring it might greatly reduce risk of HIV and other retroviral infections (as well as a variety of bacterial and fungal infections).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theta_defensin

« Last Edit: November 26, 2018, 09:38:56 AM by LetterRip »

TheDrake

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2018, 10:17:25 AM »
That's way beyond my depth in biotech, but wouldn't the argument against doing such an activation be the unintended side effects? Like, the improved immune defense is great, but it gets overworked resulting in dangerous hypersensitivity? Maybe not applying in that specific case, but more generally. Monkeying with the immune system could be hazardous.

Natural selection might have turned it off for a good reason.

I tracked down the name of a novelette that I remember very fondly, called "The Others" by J Hunter Holly. I'm not sure I should reread it. I read it as a teen and found it very insightful at the time. I've burned myself before tracking down and rereading my childhood favorites. It covers some of this ground.

cherrypoptart

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2018, 10:29:12 AM »
Humanity is probably doomed but if there is any hope for us long term we will need to be a lot smarter and better adapted to survive in very harsh environments than we are right now. Genetic manipulation and enhancement of the human species is a necessary shortcut. Sure, there are risks, but it's an absolute certainty that humanity will die out eventually if we don't travel to other stars and the way things look right now that's not likely to happen, to put it mildly. If we have more genius humans maybe they'll figure out a way. Or people who can hibernate during long space flights. Or build in plant cells so somehow we can have a human-plant hybrid who can breathe both oxygen and carbon dioxide and exhale both as well. Or something. Might need humans who can withstand and metabolize high levels of radiation, go for long periods without food, air, or water, etc. Hopefully these enhanced humans will be nice to us and it won't end up like in that book Anvil of the Heart.

Fenring

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2018, 11:02:46 AM »
A lot of people have been concerned about modifying fruits and vegetables, given our relative lack of deep understanding about nutrition and other factors. And we see that crops like corn end up with the old crop more or less wiped out and replaced by the new strain. That same thing may well happen with the human genome, where a modified person will presumably pass on the modified genes (or will they?) and after a short time even a small percentage of modified people will spread the edited genes and a huge percentage of the population will end up with them. Now imagine that these have irreparably damaging consequences; by then it will be like a built-in version of the Captain Tripps virus, far too late to contain, with containment consisting of...what? Disallowing pregnancy?

This is only a nightmare scenario, one of many I'm sure (including Gattaca, and Khan), but I doubt there will ever be opportunity to have ethical and even pragmatic debate about such things because places like China will go ahead full-steam on projects like this regardless of what anyone else thinks. Is there going to have to be a mutant registration program like in X-Men, where mutants (such as they are) are banned from athletics? What will be done about super-soldiers?

Eh, this whole issue gives me a headache.

TheDrake

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #5 on: November 26, 2018, 11:21:19 AM »
I don't think we are going to have to worry about Captain America or the Chinese equivalent. Drones and robots will perform that role quite nicely without genetic help. Or cyborgs.

We might have to worry about big-brained Mentats though.

Crunch

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #6 on: November 26, 2018, 06:55:03 PM »
I, for one, welcome our new genetically enhanced overlords.

D.W.

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2018, 11:55:58 AM »
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So yes 'GATTACA' is coming.
I'm just sitting here feeling like an idiot for not realizing the title was a play on the genetic code letters for the first time...

I'm all for the tinkering.  As for "hoping they'll be nice to us", I'm banking on live editing of adults being a future breakthrough in my lifetime.  I may be too old to be a millennial, but still looking forward to being a millenarian.  :D

TheDrake

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #8 on: November 27, 2018, 02:48:23 PM »
I want to genetically engineer animals that won't injure themselves on plastic drinking straws. Stupid turtles.

TheDeamon

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #9 on: November 27, 2018, 09:20:11 PM »
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So yes 'GATTACA' is coming.
I'm just sitting here feeling like an idiot for not realizing the title was a play on the genetic code letters for the first time...

I'm all for the tinkering.  As for "hoping they'll be nice to us", I'm banking on live editing of adults being a future breakthrough in my lifetime.  I may be too old to be a millennial, but still looking forward to being a millenarian.  :D

Might not need gene editing for that. Just eat this pill of specially tailored probiotic bacteria and adhere to the relevant dietary guidelines that are beneficial for them and have a nice life.

And/or get a series of shots and pills you get every few years. Senenesce research is finding all kinds of fascinating and promising things. Pretty sure they're going to have it worked out well before I hit my 70's. Down side for me is that may also translate into never retiring. :(

Would be nice if my parents could live to benefit from much of the stuff coming, but they just hit their 70's and both family trees say they have 15 to 20 years left at most(well... one of them has 90+ year olds to spare and a centegenarian as well, so he might get another 25+ without the science assist), possibly as little as 10. FDA and regulatory processes such as they are, odds are the relevant stuff hits the market just after they're dead(estimates are 10 to 15 years, assuming they don't crash & burn with unintended side effects). #firstworldproblems #genxproblems (or am I more properly a "xenial" now?)

Edit to add: Very HIGH probability that we're going to see significantly improved "healthspan" as a result of the stuff they've found recently, which will very likely mean average life expectancy increases by a number of years as well.

Not so certain, and where most debate in the field currently exists, is if life-span (not to be confused with average
Life-Expactancy) can be increased beyond 100 in any significant way.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2018, 09:30:13 PM by TheDeamon »

TheDrake

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2018, 01:09:53 PM »
Might not need gene editing for that. Just eat this pill of specially tailored probiotic bacteria and adhere to the relevant dietary guidelines that are beneficial for them and have a nice life.

And/or get a series of shots and pills you get every few years. Senenesce research is finding all kinds of fascinating and promising things. Pretty sure they're going to have it worked out well before I hit my 70's. Down side for me is that may also translate into never retiring. :(

There goes the neighborhood. If nobody dies then resource use grows exponentially.

Luckily, Martin Shkreli's frat brothers will make sure you have to sell a yacht to pay for the treatment. Imagine an immortal Trump though.... like his megalomania isn't already pronounced enough.  :o

D.W.

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2018, 02:32:45 PM »
Time to get off this rock then.  ;)

cherrypoptart

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2018, 08:47:36 AM »
Altered Carbon explores this with the Meths. Methusalahs. The rich who live pretty much forever control everything with money and power. We always hear the investment story about how a penny invested a couple of hundred years ago would be worth millions today. Just think if you lived a few hundred years how that would change your retirement strategy and portfolio asset allocation. If they ever figure out how to wake people up from cryo that would apply too. You can get a life insurance policy for a few hundred a year that would cover your cryo costs and then you invest a hundred thousand that's still left on the policy into your account and wake up in a couple of hundred years when they figure out how to reverse the cell damage and you should be very rich and also healthy. The potential is already here. And good luck with that. 

rightleft22

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2018, 10:41:57 AM »
how many people here would like to Live for hundred of years?
And if you could have some genetic engineering to make you "smarter" and never get fat... would you do it?

D.W.

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2018, 11:31:40 AM »
I'm not terribly keen on being a bleeding edge trail blazing guinea pig... 
But beyond that?  I'm all in.   8)

TheDeamon

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #15 on: November 30, 2018, 12:41:31 AM »
I'm not terribly keen on being a bleeding edge trail blazing guinea pig... 
But beyond that?  I'm all in.   8)

And you guys are almost universally older than me, so you're going to be more likely to need it before I do.  ;D

D.W.

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #16 on: November 30, 2018, 09:56:08 AM »
Won't be the first time I signed up for beta projects and bitched about them till the bugs were worked out.   ;)

I suppose the baseline is complaining as one gets older, so... why not? 

Wayward Son

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Re: What's the worst that could happen?
« Reply #17 on: December 04, 2018, 06:05:14 PM »
We always hear the investment story about how a penny invested a couple of hundred years ago would be worth millions today.

Heinlein had it right, I think:

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$100 placed at 7 percent interest compounded quarterly for 200 years will increase to more than
$100,000,000—by which time it will be worth nothing.
:)