Genetic Engineering

Brain Engineering


The human body is a remarkable thing with enormous natural capabilities and capacity that we can choose to develop as we wish. We can develop our muscular capacity to lift more than three times our own body weight, we can train our minds to recall thousands of facts or numbers. Record book are full of these amazing feats and achievements. Not only that but when faced with danger to ourselves or others we can reach into our reserves and use as yet untapped resources and skills.

And we can do all this without the assistance of science or medicine. Add into the mix genetic engineering and it's associated sciences and the potential for human endeavour is extraordinary and controversial.

For centuries we have been performing genetic manipulation; as a species we learnt early to identify the healthiest, strongest animals, those with the traits that were most desirable and to use them for breeding the next generation, genetic engineering at its most basic.

As humans we choose our breeding partners for very similar reasons, though perhaps less consciously. We want the healthiest, most intelligent, most attractive gene supply. But, these terms are subjective, what is attractive to one person is not necessarily the same for the next, some people value artistic rather than academic skills.

How do we measure intelligence? IQ tests, for example, only measure a certain kind of intelligence. What about undesirable traits such as criminality? These are big questions and debates and will be covered in a future article that will look beyond the technical.

Lets start simply; most certainly the time is fast approaching when we will be able to genetically modify, using stem cell engineering, our major organs, heart, lungs, liver etc. At present this research is aimed at organ repair and renewal and at creating 'designer babies', embryos that are chosen and/or engineered for specific traits. Potentially these techniques could be used for organ enhancement; a heart that pumped more efficiently would increase an athletes performance. Genetically modified muscle cells, introduced into the person would increase their strength. The list of opportunities for modifying humans for enhanced capacity is enormous and the possible usage limited only by our imagination.

The major organs have relatively simple, specialist functions, ergo; the genetic engineering of these organs is relatively simple. It is when we get on to the brain and intelligence that the story gets a little more complex.

Researchers believe they have begun to identify the genes that give us our intelligence. However, there is a huge debate about how much 'intelligence' is derived from genes and how much from environmental influences. The jury is still out on whether our cognitive abilities are purely genetic, the most likely scenario is that it is a combination of factors that give us our 'intelligence'.

However, if we can identify the 'genius gene' it may be possible to override the influence of our environment. We could use present technologies such as PGD to choose only those embryos that demonstrate the desired gene sequences or we could genetically engineer embryos to include certain chosen traits, say musicality or enhanced language skills. Another avenue might be to use stem cells to implant the required genes into an adult to enhance there mental capacity. Experimentation is quite advanced in the area of treatment for neurological disease and disorder and it is not such a huge leap to foresee the use of this technology for the enhancement of brain functions.

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