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Genetically Engineered People

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There's a lot of speculation about how people will change once we start fiddling with our genes. I think that's a long way off yet, but it's fun to speculate. So, what should we want?

1) A better immune system. One that will defeat all infections, destroy all cancerous cells, won't attack its own body, won't overreact to harmless things like nuts or a speck of pollen, and will learn to recognize that grafts and transplants are now things it has to protect.

How to go about doing this, I've not even the slightest clue. Except, perhaps, for grafts and transplants. There are indications the immune system can come to recognize a transplant as "self" rather than "other," especially if there is time to let it get used to the foreign tissue before the graft or transplant (of course for transplants that's nearly impossible).

Defeating every infection might be easier. The immune system does it with a lot of infectious agents. the problem is many kill before the war is over, so to speak. So we'd want a more aggressive, faster response. This may include outside assistance, such as hormone or enzyme shots or pills once sickness is detected.

The immune system also fights cancerous cells, but again not always in time to win (yet such things as spontaneaous remissions might be due to immune response). Some newer thereapies boost immune responses by cloning antibodies and adding agents like interferon.

2) Better wound repair. Scars aside, there's damage the body simply can't repair, it just gets used to it. For example, if you loose a limb the body won't regrow it, but just seal off the stump (if you don't bleed to death first). Some animals do ahve this ability, notably the salamander. Yet there are also a few docummented cases of people who lost fingertips in accidents and, remarkably, grew them back (I swear this is so). This indicates the potential for regrowing lost body parts is there.

Aside from missing limbs it would be great is broken bones could be sculpted back to their propper shape. This does happen when a broken bone is set right and the limb is imobilized. IN fact more bone than is needed grows to repair the fracture, then specialized cells take away the excess. So our bodies already have an inkling of what needs to be done.

Antoher nice thing to have would be an endless supply of teeth. This may come about soon with lab-grown teeth implanted in the jaw. I know prosthetic teeth today are also implanted in the jaw, but I don't know how well they compare to natural teeth.

3) Less sleep. We spend roughly 1/3 of our lives asleep. Isn't that too much? No, it's what the curernt bodies need (more or less). Wouldn't you want to sleep less time per day? Maybe just a couple of hours, maybe 6 hours? Sleep is pleasant, but largely unproductive (yes, I know the body rests and the mind perhaps forms memories, perhaps does something else while we're asleep)

4) Longevity. We've done wonders for longevity over the past 150 years, with lifespans reaching 80 years in developed nations. I've heard estimates that the "natural" human lifespan should be of about 120 years. That is how long we can reasonably expect to stay alive if we care for ourselves and ahve decent medical treatment (someone tell the Democrats this!). We may reach such lifespans over the course of this century. That's all well and good, but what if we could extend life beyond that? better yet, what if we could remain reasonably fit for centuries?

There has to be a limit, I suppose, because the brain cannot hold infomration forever. Hos much information, meaning memories, the brain can retain and for how long is not known. Perhaps not even 100 years, perhaps 1,000 years (incidentally we may want better brains just for longevity).

5) Better brains. Yes, the human brain is unparalleled in the known universe (what we know of it), but clearly we could do better. How better is the question. Better memories, perhaps. I'd be satisfied with the assurance that my brain won't deteriorate too much with age. elderly people I've known vary in this respect. Some remain as sharp as a 12 year old well into their 80s, some become forgetful and, well, less smart, early in their 60s (and some earlier than that, but that could be some form os brain disorder).

That's about it. I don't want to be super strong, fast or any other such nonsense. We have machines to do the work that reuqires strenght and speed. That's the human way of doing things, and it has been since our ancestors first domesticated farm animals. I don't want to eb able to work out cube roots in my head, again we ahve amchines to do that.

I would like to live longer, never get seriously ill, and always be in reasonably good shape.

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Humans do not need better brains. We need better usage of our brains.

I'm reminded of the popular myth that people use only 10% of their brains. I don't suppose that what you mean, though.

I think we have enough cognitive skills and reasoning abilities, but I worry that they degrade over time.

"I would like to live longer, never get seriously ill, and always be in reasonably good shape." - Who wouldn't like that? You're speaking for the whole human race here.

Of course. Being in good shape is up to every person, that is it can be achieved with some effort and care. But avoiding illness isn't that simple. Cancer may be influenced by external factors, such as smoking and radiation, but it's largely unpredictable. Infections can be caught in the most unlikely places an means. Medicine has taken great strides against disease, but I don't think we'll vanquish disease until we improve our immune system

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I think a lot of the advances you name will be at least partially, but I think it will involve more than just modifying our DNA to make it work.

1. Better immune system: Almost inevitable, but I doubt it will be of the "prevent all disease" sort of advance. I have a feeling the bugs will adapt right along with us. Combined with other disciplines we might get pretty close though. It seems to me that the combination of enhanced immunity, nanotech, engineered organisms, and improved sanitation methods would be pretty potent though. Those advances would probably lend themselves to anti-cancer efforts too. If medical researchers develop methods to temporarily slow the body's metabolism that would probably be useful too.

I'm pretty sure graft improvements will involve improving graft compatibility to us, not adapting us to the grafts.

2. Wound repair: Pretty much involves the technologies already mentioned. I'm sure some sort of mechanical analog to human parts will also be developed for replacements. The teeth thing would be neat, but If we developed tech that advanced I think we'd probably have a better method that direct implantation into the jaw. At that level of mastery it would probably just involve an injection of some sort of genetic catalyst into the gumline to motivate regrowth.

3. Less sleep: I really doubt it. Getting into some pretty advanced mucking with neurochemistry and brain function. However, combine longevity and productivity advances it might not even matter.

4. Longevity: Probably. My understanding is the aging process is largely one of progressive genetic damage and wearing down the body. I'm sure we'll be able to fix that at some point or just replace parts.

5. Better Brains: I don't think its likely with genetics for the reasons mentioned under less sleep. I can see all kinds of cybernetic and pharmacological assistance though. If just the functions of my iphone could be incorporated into a person it would be a pretty significant enhancement. It wouldn't even need to be smaller, we'd just have to solve the interface and rejection problem.

6. The good shape thing seems possible. Weight loss drugs are getting pretty good, along with additives like olestra that help reduce the bad component of some foods.

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Many things can be done with pets. It mainly depends in the individual taste of the owner. Somebody might want a very tiny dog, a dog that never gets big. A "Puppy Forever". Or this other dog, who`s name I cannot recall, that has at a certain age a grave problem with the bones that make up the spinal columm. As it gets old, the pain becomes quite big and some owner simply choose to sacrifice the dog. Then we have this other case in which the dog, as it gets older, starts to loose the capacity to accurately recognize scents. There are cases in which the dog has attacked the owner after not being able to distinguish, through smell, who he is.

Now, regarding the human body modifications:

1_The work with telomeres and the enzyme telemerase is essential to reduce or even detain aging. If the cell´s genetic code was to be modified so that the telomeres section is reconstucted after every cell division, the individual cells would not die and they would be able to reproduce forever. Example: Cancer Cells. Is anyone associated with the cancer HeLa? A patient called Helen (Last name I do not remember) developed a ferocious cancer which quickly ended her life. Nowadays, HeLa cancer is grown in many laboratories and used as tissue culture for different experiments. I believe that the chromosome count for the cancer is between 80 and 85. It never dies, at all hands, an inmortal cancer. Now, how could we possibly apply this to human cells?

2_As you are all probably aware of, human beings have evolved through time. The creatures fit to survive survive and their genes are passed on. Natural Selection. We evolve that way in order to adapt our system to changes in our enviroment. Now, changes cannot and will not ocurr in a sole individual in his lifespan. This changes take many years. What I´m about to propose is crazy and a simply floating idea I had some days ago. Viruses are known to be able to modify the genetic structure of the cells. So, how about an organ that, receving stimulus from the brain and acting in accordance, creates viruses, harmless viruses, which target specific types of cells and carry a determined modification to be carried out within the cells nuclear membrane. There are many problems with this. First, how to create the organ. Second, how to make the organ create the viruses and then how to make it modify and change the specific set of genetic changes to be carried by the virus and implanted in the cell. And many other but I`m getting a bit long here.

3_ Modify the human skeleton. We are the only mammal that suffers from Lumbago.

4_ More effective filtrating systems for the brain. Filtration of substances such as alcohol.

Now, and excuse the little off topic addition here:

Cancer seems to still require a lot of investigation to be properly exploited in its full potential. Of course, we still need a good cure for it. A cure that does not destroy the immune system in its way. Then again, I bring up the viruses. There are viruses that attack certain cells. We know this. What part of their genetic code tells them which cells to attack? Could there be a way to "induce" viruses to target specifically cancer cells? Cells with more or less than 46 chromosomes?

Sorry If the topic has visible mistakes, I am a little short in time right now.

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Many things can be done with pets. It mainly depends in the individual taste of the owner. Somebody might want a very tiny dog, a dog that never gets big. A "Puppy Forever".

We pretty much have that already. There are breeds in all sizes, and most dogs retain a playful puppy personality until they get too old.

Or this other dog, who`s name I cannot recall, that has at a certain age a grave problem with the bones that make up the spinal columm. As it gets old, the pain becomes quite big and some owner simply choose to sacrifice the dog.

That si a problem. Most breeds were developed by inbreeding, with all the nasty reinfored recessive genes that implies. Lots of breeds have chronic health problems. It would be good to remove them.

But I was thinking along other lines: longevity and cognition.

Longevity is easier to understand, we'd like our pets to live long lives, perhaps as long as ours. All dog onwers know they'll eventually bury their pet, and that's not only sad but often casts a pall on the pet-owner relationship. I thin it's even worse because the dog is completely unaware of it.

Of course we've made progress there, too. But dog and cat lifespans are just too short compared to ours.

Cognition is a more dificult subject. As dogs evolved to adapt to us (those who adapted we kept, the others were cast out and didn't reproduce or at elast not as much as the first group), they've developed innate abilities to learn to understand people in some rudimentary way. I don't say dogs understand speech (though they come to associate some words with some actions), but they can comprehend tone of voice, eye gestures and such.

In short we can communicate with dogs to some degree. In turn we have a cultural heritage written down that tells us what dogs are expressing through actions (tail wagging, growling, barking, etc).

Do we want to increase the cognitive abilities of dogs?

I don't mean to imbe them with a conceptual ability. If we did that they'd be our equals and no longer pets. If we ever want to create beings equal to us, we'd do best to stay in our family tree. So let's scratch this idea out.

Dogs can associate some words with actions. So they learn what to do when you say "stay!" or "speak!" or, with my dog, "let's go for a walk." (If she hears me say that she runs for the cabinet we keep her leash in and scratches frantically at the door). Though limmited, that's enough for most pet owners and for people who use dogs for some sort of work (like blood hounds, bomb-sniffing dogs, etc).

Could we increase their cognitive skills so they fall into some category between perceptual and conceptual? If we can, why would we want to?

I haven't formed an opinion on such issues yet, but I think about them.

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  • 1 month later...
More intelligent people tend to be more rational.

Shouldn't it be the opposite? Rational people tend to be more intelligent. No matter how high someone's IQ is, if they choose not to think, and think rationally, they will not be intelligent whatsoever. And more IQ won't automatically cause someone to choose to think rationally.

On the topic, Longevity and upgraded immune system is the most important here I believe. But consider this, if longevity or even immortality is achieved though gene manipulation, unless it's in a free capitalistic society, the overpopulation will cause social collapse in statist societies faster than anything if unregulated. And you can bet regulation is going to come down HARD from all pressure groups on any such development.

On the wishful side, If I had the choice I'd give up any scientific discovery for the biotech that could achieve longevity/immortality, even if it's the technology to create a new metal stronger and lighter than steel :D

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The best thing that genetic enginners could do now would be a very fast growing tree which can not reproduce without man's help. We could regrow deforested areas in undeveloped countries fairly quickly to prevent droughts, floods, etc.

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