Clones, hybrid beings, cyborgs

Babies are designed in China. Pigs are supposed to donate organs to us and hybrid beings from humans and machines with superior abilities are no longer just science fiction. Medical advances lead us to a moral dilemma.

Genetic engineering could make life possible without disease and suffering. But the new methods pose ethical problems. If research is able to repair nature's errors, we can go further: perfecting human characteristics, expanding them with technology - designing as we want. It sounds like science fiction. But in 2019 we're not that far from it. Researchers have long feared a "Frankenstein moment".
Prostheses were just the beginning

People have been living with artificial spare parts such as pacemakers or prosthetic legs for decades. They were developed to fix defects. The next stage would be cyborgs: using technical help to expand human abilities, a fusion of a hybrid being of man and machine.

Just like Neil Harbisson, who was born color-blind and therefore connected his skull to a color antenna. With the help of a sensor, the antenna registers the wavelengths of light and translates them into vibrations. A professor for transhuman design and cyborgism explains how technology can also change our ideal of beauty in an interview with WELT.
Organs from animals

But it is not only steel or metal tools that are able to compensate for human weaknesses. In Germany, 9400 people are currently waiting for a vital organ. In order to remedy the lack of donors, researchers want to use animal organs. In the so-called xenotransplantation, animal cells are genetically manipulated. This is to prevent rejection reactions. Scientists consider pigs, in particular, to be suitable. A team from Münschen has already managed to raise pigs whose hearts have been successfully implanted in monkeys. Soon they could be the first in the world to save the life of a person with a pig's heart.

In xenotransplantation, as well as in conventional transplants, donor organs are often rejected by the recipient. In order to avoid this problem, the Japanese doctor Hiromitsu Nakauchi wants to create a rat embryo with human cells. In order for the cells to develop into human organs, the surrogate mother should carry the embryo.
The birth of so-called chimeras has so far been prohibited. But despite global ethical concerns - Japan has dared to take the step and allowed the research team around Nakauchi to give birth to the hybrid being of humans and animals.

China's designer babies

Chinese researchers have gone further and manipulated two human embryos with the CRISPR gene scissors. In doing so, they blocked the gene that helps the HI virus to penetrate human cells. In this way, they want to have prevented the babies from becoming infected with HIV and contracting AIDS.

The case met with sharp criticism internationally. The method used for gene manipulation contains many errors and the consequences of an incorrectly modified gene are difficult to predict, according to the German Ethics Council. Other Chinese scientists are also critical of the experiment. The method is too dangerous to test on the genetic makeup of human embryos. But although the head of the study has now been fired from the university, a third designer baby is apparently already on the way.
Gene scissors are said to have corrected hereditary disease

The genetic scissors that were used for the babies in China have already been used in Germany. In November, a team of researchers from Regensburg announced the first successful treatment of an inherited illness by Crispr. The 20-year-old patient suffered from beta-thalassemia, in which the body does not produce enough hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is the dye in red blood cells. It transports the oxygen. If there is a lack of substance, the organs are chronically undersupplied. This can result in growth disorders, bone disorders or liver enlargement.

To make up for the hemoglobin deficiency, the researchers activated another gene in the patient that also produces the protein. However, experts are also critical of this progress. So far, the gene scissors have only been tested on one person and only for a short time, which is why one cannot speak of a cure or a general form of therapy.
Cloning is also controversial

Because the genes differ from person to person, it is difficult to find a suitable treatment for everyone despite the same disease. That is why Chinese researchers have cloned a genetically modified monkey five times. The identical genome simplifies research into healing methods, according to scientists.
Because of the great similarity between primates and humans, there is growing concern that humans could also be cloned in the future. In Germany, you don't want to know anything about it yet.
Prevent hereditary diseases using the app

Another way to combat hereditary diseases is by molecular biologist George Church of Harard University. He is developing a dating app that prevents matches based on genetic requirements. For example, users who have systems for the same hereditary diseases in their genes should not even meet. If you want to use the app, you have to give a saliva sample.
Critics compare the researcher's idea with a preliminary stage of eugenics, in which selective breeding is to create a physically outstanding human race.


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