Cute Green Glowing GM Monkeys Could Imperil Humanity, Say Bioethicists

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Yesterday, Japanese researchers announced that their marmosets, genetically modified to glow green under ultraviolet light, had had babies that glowed too. This work shows that primates can be given new traits that can be passed on to future generations. This proof-of-concept experiment is a step toward modifying primates so that they can pass along human genes that produce disease which might be valuable for finding cures. Hooray! Well, actually not for everyone.

Setting aside the predictable objections of the animal rights folks, it turns out that some bioethicists are wringing their hands over this research advance, too. Why? According to the Washington Post,

But because the work marks the first time members of a species so closely related to humans have had their genetic makeup permanently altered, the research set off alarms that it marked a troubling step toward applying such techniques to people, which would violate a long-standing taboo.

"It would be easy enough for someone to make the leap to trying this on humans," said Lori B. Andrews, who studies reproductive technologies at the Illinois Institute of Technology's Chicago-Kent College of Law. "If you make this kind of change, it's passed on to all future generations. Many people think it's hubris to have people remaking people in this way." …

"This is proof of concept in a closely related species," Andrews said.

"Some in the future might want to put a gene into humans to give them the running speed of a cheetah, for example, or maybe create the potential for night vision." Andrews noted that reproductive technologies are largely unregulated in the United States.

"This is just another reason why we need to go behind the doors of the [fertility] clinics and create an oversight mechanism that works," Andrews said.

Even the hoary argument from repugance makes its appearance: 

"It's hard to put your finger on what is it about this research that is likely to stimulate ethical debate besides the sort of gut feeling that this is not the right thing to do," said Mark A. Rothstein, a bioethicist at the University of Louisville. "But I think we'd better contemplate where this research is going and develop policies to deal with it before it slaps us in the face." 

That's a typical move of all too many bioethicists—stop/slow research until we bless/condemn it with our moral imprimatur.

The Post article ends with this observation from Emory University geneticist Anthony Chan: 

"We should never do it in humans," Chan said. "We don't want to change our evolutionary path. That would have a profound impact on the next generation." 

"We" who? 

NEXT: Harry Truman's "Courage"

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  1. My baby’s gonna glow in the dark, goddammit! Fukkin’ bioethicists.

  2. If I woke up looking like that, I would run towards the nearest living thing and kill it.

  3. If ravers start bringing glow-in-the-dark monkeys to raves, then I’ll speak out. No one – including innocent monkeys – should be subjected to raves.

    Until then, put me in the “this is cool” camp.

  4. Episiarch: No doubt there is recondite popular culture reference in your post that I’m missing, but I think the marmosets look like miniature Chewbaccas.

  5. Although I admit that this kind of stuff does make me a bit uncomfortable when thinking about (mis)applications in the future….(I’m thinking in a Brave New World sort of way)

    The comments of the bioethicists make me really want to ignore said discomfort and say bring it on!

    “Some in the future might want to put a gene into humans to give them the running speed of a cheetah, for example, or maybe create the potential for night vision.” Andrews noted that reproductive technologies are largely unregulated in the United States.

    He says both of these things like it’s a bad thing!

    Humans with night vision would be fucking awesome!

    it seems like their complaint is basically a roundabout way of saying “humans are trying to play god…and that’s wrong” Without any real argument WHY they believe it’s wrong.

    But we already do play god — or at least try and correct his mistakes. What’s the difference between contacts and glasses vs. say using genes to guarantee 20/20 vision? In both cases humans are using technology and science to correct a natural physical flaw.

  6. oops… forgot to change my name.

  7. “Some in the future might want to put a gene into humans to give them the running speed of a cheetah, for example, or maybe create the potential for night vision.”

    Ooh! Ooh! I want claws!

  8. That would have a profound impact on the next generation.

    If I overstate the obvious, can I also make whatever six-figure salary this guy probably makes? I mean…wouldn’t that rather be the POINT? Otherwise we have geneticists monkeying around with genes and never changing a thing. Let me tell ya, that’s a great use of our money!

  9. If I get this option on my next dog, does that increase or decrease the likelyhood of SWAT shooting it?

  10. We don’t want to change our evolutionary path. That would have a profound impact on the next generation.

    Couldn’t you say the same thing about any life-saving technology?

  11. Night vision? Sure, so you want to put the headlight makers out of business…just because you want to see in the dark. I see how it is…….

  12. Ron, it’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force. However, seeing as you know about 12oz Mouse, I am surprised you didn’t get another Matt Maiellaro reference.

  13. Also, it’s bullshit that our teeth aren’t better for rending flesh. I want some fucking real canines. You hear me, science? Get your fucking ass in gear.

  14. Although I admit that this kind of stuff does make me a bit uncomfortable when thinking about (mis)applications in the future….(I’m thinking in a Brave New World sort of way)

    If I remember correctly, they didn’t use genetic engineering in Brave New World. Instead they controlled the uterine chemical ratios while the fetus was in an artificial uterus. This could be far more effective.

    That’s enough pedantry for me today. Carry on.

  15. …who studies reproductive technologies at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law…

    Rather misleading.

  16. This might be the time to suggest Darwin’s Radio.

  17. I doubt you could give a human the running speed of a cheetah without going back to four legs. Balance, speed, durability — pick any two.

    Methinks the bioethicists have about the same level of technical knowledge as the X-Men creators, who apparently thought that the right modification of our DNA could result in the ability to teleport, read minds, and control the weather.

  18. The gengineering genie is out of the bottle. The process gets cheaper and easier with each passing day. Bioethicists Ethicists of all stripes would better spend their time discussing how humanity should deal with the inevitable genetically engineered part human/part animal folks coming our way.

  19. And I am still demanding flying monkeys be given top priority.

  20. “But I think we’d better contemplate where this research is going and develop policies to deal with it before it slaps us in the face.”

    Imagine the horrors if people were given improved powers of logic.

    It might put lawyers, politicians, and bioethicists out of work.

  21. I thought the whole point of evolution was that there is no undergirding plan behind the development of species.

  22. Tulpa, the whole point of evolution is lead people away from Jesus. Other than that, there’s not much to it.

  23. I enjoyed Darwin’s Radio

  24. “I doubt you could give a human the running speed of a cheetah without going back to four legs. Balance, speed, durability — pick any two.”

    You forget about Steve Austin.

  25. our “evolutionary path” has already been totally demolished by societal and technological progress.

  26. What? No spanking monkeys in the dark jokes?
    What kind of pansy ass libertarian crowd is this?

  27. I tend to be highly sympathetic to Reason’s pro-posthuman editorial line, but you can’t just pretend there aren’t any potential downsides here.

    I can think of one off the top of my head:

    “If we gain the ability to alter human genes to advance desired traits, it is vastly more likely that this technology will be deployed to make human beings more submissive to authority than to make them smarter, faster, or stronger.”

    If this technology already existed, but its use was still being debated, I think we can pretty much assume its first major deployment would be in a country like North Korea to create a permanent docile slave class, or in a country like Saudi Arabia to “improve” the obedience/submission of women, or maybe even in a country like Great Britain to make “antisocial males” into bootlicking eunuchs. All of these would happen long, long before Gattaca came around.

  28. Longevity, super-IQ, and super-strength for me, breeding slavery into the rest of you. Perfect!

  29. My guess is that the first application that would make beaucoup bucks would be a gene transfer that allowed fat women to become more shapely.

    And that would be bad how?

  30. Ooh! Ooh! I want claws!

    Silly human. Claws are something for more evolved successors to humans.

  31. Honestly, any initial breakthroughs will be in curing diseases or making people thin, because that’s where the money is. Governments can control the people pretty well without this technology, so why would they bother? I mean, if you are a power-hungry autocrat, is it any fun to have total control over…docile slaves? Where’s the power-tripping in that?

  32. This plus Seasteading= Real life Bioshock!

  33. Episiarch,

    You’re so full of shit. I bet you have some genetically docile slaves doing work for you right now.

  34. I, for one, welcome our new glowing monkey overlords.

  35. ProL, don’t smart me. See, I wanna watch you squirm; I wanna see you sweat a little, and when you smart me…it ruins it.

  36. Ah, returning to the early Coens. Always a good move.

  37. “Some in the future might want to put a gene into humans to give them the running speed of a cheetah, for example, or maybe create the potential for night vision.” Andrews noted that reproductive technologies are largely unregulated in the United States.

    “Natural” night vision, and fleetness of foot. They will make great soldiers. Is that good, or bad? I am sure the hand-wringing progressives think it is bad. I think it is good.

  38. The fact that bomb collars could be put around all our necks is not an argument against the existence of explosives for construction. That any technology could be misused is a fact, not a revelation.

    Let’s engineered bioethicists to involuntarily piss themselves when they say something even they know is bullshit.

  39. I favor technologies that would allow me to point my finger and shoot lightning at people who bother me.

  40. We don’t want to change our evolutionary path. That would have a profound impact on the next generation.

    Even with engineered traits homo sapiens will still evolve naturally. I say go for it.

  41. I will be impressed when I see some flying blue assmonkeys.

  42. We need flying blue monkeys with bioethicist seeking super brains armed with missiles.

    Green monkeys just will not do.

  43. You know how kids get pierced and tattooed to piss off their parents? Well, that’s the future of genetic engineering. “Dude, I’m getting tiger stripes and a mane, along with a baboon ass.”

  44. Cute Green Glowing GM Monkeys Could Imperil Humanity, Say Bioethicists

    Look, I hate anime, too, but that is still a litte over the top.

  45. If food is genetically engineered and people are genetically engineered, how will we tell the difference?

  46. it is vastly more likely that this technology will be deployed to make human beings more submissive to authority

    Logically speaking, all humans would then eventually have the trait and therefore no human would have any authority.

    Maybe you’re on to something.

  47. If food is genetically engineered and people are genetically engineered, how will we tell the difference?

    SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!~!!!!!!!

  48. Que sera, sera.

  49. If food is genetically engineered and people are genetically engineered, how will we tell the difference?

    Taste, of course. People taste like chicken, except human-er.

  50. CT/Episiarch,

    You’re both right. Except that people tastes like pork.

  51. The funny thing is people focus on body-modification things that are actually the least interesting applications of biotech. So maybe biotech can make a guy really strong and fast. Whatever, a guy with a gun is still way more dangerous. A 90 pound girl with a gun could beat Mariusz Pudzianowski 99 times out of 100.

    The interesting and potentially scary stuff comes from personality and mental modification.

  52. We have no problem making people smarter with education and better nutrition. We have no problem making people stronger with exercize. We have no problem sending kids to religious schools for moral training. But of course it would be totally wrong to do any of this with genetic engineering. I hate all bioethicists. Unless, of course, they are transhumanists.

  53. If we could really map out the workings of the brain in detail, some nut job government might be able to have a virus designed that could influence or control our thinking, at least on a gross scale, by screwing with our brain cells. Now that’s scary.

  54. General Motors is hiring cute green glowing monkeys? No wonder they’re going bankrupt.

  55. ProL,

    Ah, but we could preemptively use GE to ‘rewire’ our brains so as to thwart any such attempts.

    Also, it can’t be said enough, but we’re all going to die anyway so none of it means a damn thing.

  56. I didn’t know Barack and Michelle glowed green…

  57. Everybody seems to be worried by (or delighted at) the thought of changes to large numbers of people or to adults. Ain’t gonna happen. It will be one at a time and nine months later you get a baby. You don’t get fangs or claws or superspeed, your kid does. And if a government wants a GE underclass, they’ve got to wait years to even find out if it works.

  58. Thankfully, researchers in Asia don’t give a fuck what American bioethicist and academicians in general have to say. Unfortunately, this death cult profession has made their presence felt here.

    I remember reading OMNI as a little kid and that is where I first heard of the term. They seemed like ghouls to me then and they still do so to this day.

  59. “Some in the future might want to put a gene into humans to give them the running speed of a cheetah, for example, or maybe create the potential for night vision.” Andrews noted that reproductive technologies are largely unregulated in the United States.

    Or, I don’t know, make people immune to cancer? Diabetes? Of course that puts all the food/smoking nazis out of a job.

    We don’t want to change our evolutionary path. That would have a profound impact on the next generation.

    But isn’t that the whole point of science for about the last kazillion years, starting with taming fire?

    it is vastly more likely that this technology will be deployed to make human beings more submissive to authority

    It’s much easier to accomplish that with welfare.

  60. I have nothing to add to this debate except that when the time comes, I want to swap out my melanin-producing gene for one that makes chlorophyll.

  61. Maybe somebody already mentioned this, but this is stupid:

    “Some in the future might want to put a gene into humans to give them the running speed of a cheetah, for example, or maybe create the potential for night vision.”

    As if a cheetah’s running speed is encoded in a single gene rather than, say, the product of body shape, musculature, metabolism…

    And night vision? Yeah, we can completely re-engineer our eyeballs, optic nerves and visual cortex just by plugging in one gene.

    Fucking idiots like this shouldn’t be expounding on matters they know nothing about.

  62. I want to be made immune to sound bites.

  63. I vote to modify myself early and often. I cannot understand the moral reasoning behind “Hey, stop doing that to yourself because I don’t want to do that to myself!”

    The most useful thing to add to our repertoire that I can imagine is some therapy that boosts intelligence by any measurable amount. The benefits accruing over time from slow people being less slow and smart people becoming very smart are potentially enormous.

  64. “That’s a typical move of all too many bioethicists — stop/slow research until we bless/condemn it with our moral imprimatur.”

    Come on, Ron! Are you kidding??

  65. “That’s a typical move of all too many bioethicists — stop/slow research until we bless/condemn it with our moral imprimatur.”

    “Yes, I, Ronald Bailey, think it’s stupid to consider the potential consequences of f****** with the human genetic code.” You expose your ignorance, here, Mr. Bailey. Potential mutations and reproductive defects aside, do you really think that humans are qualified to make safe and practical changes to the human genetic code? And if we are, would you really argue that there are no ethical questions to be raised – or that we should ‘shoot first and ask questions later?’

    “If it’s based in science, it must ergo be advancement!” This is a recurring theme in your writing. And sometimes you are right. Calling out people for foolishly demonizing GM foods is one thing, but don’t call out biologists for simply saying “we don’t know what will happen, so let’s be on the safe side.” It’s hubris at its worst. It’s irresponsible; an embarrassment to individual responsibility. So eager are you to see the world’s problems solved with science that you would sacrifice discretion and reason for a roll of the dice. I’m sorry, but you were wrong on global warming, and you’re dead wrong on this.

    I think I’ll be getting my science news from somewhere other than Reason from now on. It’s embarrassing.

  66. I guess there aren’t any Upright Citizens Brigade fans here, because those worthies covered the mix of human and jaguar in an episode.

    Those poor babies, running in Mexico like that.

  67. “I think I’ll be getting my science news from somewhere other than Reason from now on. It’s embarrassing.”

    DRINK?!

  68. Aaron, do I detect the stench of the Precautionary Principle in your post?

  69. Perhaps a little, R C. Not a popular sentiment, here, I know. At least not with Mr. Bailey. I should probably read his article on the matter more closely before I reject the ideas…

    https://www.reason.com/news/show/30977.html

    I’m a big fan of science, and technology, and innovation. I don’t object to “changing our evolutionary path,” as I believe we do it regularly anyway. We did it with agriculture and modern medicine. So that’s not my beef.

    It’s more that I’m offended by Mr. Bailey’s rejection of using caution in science/technology. We’re not fortune tellers. But we’re dealing with powerful possibilities. Who is going to be responsible for that power?

    “He who hesitates is lost” doesn’t seem to me to be a very conservative position. It’s rash. And, while I don’t mind taking risks, I think there is good reason to limit risk when something as fragile and unique as our planet is concerned. We only have one of them to experiment with. I’m not a doomsday fanatic or anti-antropocentric, but seriously: there are some mistakes that are very hard to undo, and, what does it say about a person (or group) presumptuous enough to make that decision for everyone?

    Can we sue them if they f*** things up?

  70. All slave classes will glow in the dark so they can be recaptured.

  71. Read the last part of “Boat of a Million Years”
    by Poul Anderson to see one of his ideas about genetically altered future-humans.

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