designer baby

(Illustration created with photo by Suparna Sinha/ Flickr.)

Would you pay to give your child a genetic advantage, to make them smarter than their peers, taller, or more beautiful? This is a question that will become relevant within a few decades — if not sooner. That, and more in this week’s Stuff to Read:

 

When Genomics Lets Us Design Our Children, How Can We Keep It Fair for All?

Would you pay to give your child a genetic advantage, to make them smarter than their peers, taller, or more beautiful? This is a question that will become relevant within a few decades — if not sooner.

Gene sequencing will cost only a couple of dollars per human. A new generation of genetic editing tools, most notably CRISPR, have made it ridiculously easy to edit the human genome. Rapid advances in computing power will make it easier to understand the minute interplays between the dozens — if not hundreds — of genes that impact complex but valuable characteristics such as intelligence and patience. And, frankly, as artificial intelligence lets machines take on more and more complicated human tasks, we humans may need a genetic boost.

Unfortunately, the rich will likely be able to buy access to better genetics sooner than the rest of us — unless society intervenes. Do we really want a world where money can buy genetic superiority?

Granted, genetic manipulation has been a dream for decades. Here’s what is different now.

 

An Ancient Virus May Be Responsible for Human Consciousness

You’ve got an ancient virus in your brain. In fact, you’ve got an ancient virus at the very root of your conscious thought.

According to two papers published in the journal Cell in January, long ago, a virus bound its genetic code to the genome of four-limbed animals. That snippet of code is still very much alive in humans’ brains today, where it does the very viral task of packaging up genetic information and sending it from nerve cells to their neighbours in little capsules that look a whole lot like viruses themselves. And these little packages of information might be critical elements of how nerves communicate and reorganize over time — tasks thought to be necessary for higher-order thinking, the researchers said.

 

Geneticists Are Using Laser-Powered Chips to Search Through DNA Faster

As Moore’s Law collapses and we reach the limits of what normal processors can do, unconventional techniques—often dismissed in the past as too complex—start looking like feasible ways to bite off niche computing problems and gain speed advantages. A UK startup called Optalysys thinks optical computing, which has failed to live up to its promise for years, could be used to spot similarities in large data sets like genomes. They’re testing a new way to efficiently sift through mountains of genomic data: lasers. 

 

Think Deeply About Injecting Untested Treatments 

The biotech CEO who dropped his pants and injected himself in the thigh with an experimental herpes treatment wasn’t the only one who got on stage at the Body Hacking Con last weekend.

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) director of biological technologies, Justin Sanchez ran through an impressive list of government projects, but he also had a message of urgent caution for biohackers. 

 

Patient Advocate Says Novartis’ $475,000 Breakthrough Should Cost Just $160,000 

David Mitchell, 67, says he’s sure that Novartis’ Kymriah is a breakthrough medicine, and that he will need a similar medicine to treat his own blood cancer. He’s sure of something else, too: Novartis is charging too much.

 

Check Out Last Week’s Stuff to Read: 

Stuff to Read, Week 5