Genetic Engineering


Genetic Engineering Fashion

While not immediately obvious, genetic engineering as a fashion tool does have its implications for future human evolution. Let us imagine what would be happening if the technique were available today, how would humankind look? What happens when a particular characteristic becomes unfashionable? Or more alarmingly, what if certain looks or traits become ubiquitous? Studies have shown that looks and intelligence alike (both genetically determined) are directly related to societal success in terms of position, power, and pay. As the ability to choose these 'successful' looks becomes readily available and affordable, will we become a homogeneous Orwellian society not only looking alike, but also thinking alike? Would this be bad? How would it affect human evolution in its broadest sense? What influence would this trend (or the potential counter trend) have on the species?

It seems highly likely at this point in time that the use of genetic engineering will progress because of the amount of money that is washing around the industry, unless genetic engineering and biotechnology turn out to be the latest 'South Sea Bubble' or ' crash', which is still a possibility. A substantial amount of current research funding comes from governmental departments, particularly in the USA, and with the controversy that surrounds genetic engineering and associated fields this funding and tenuous public support can dry up almost overnight leaving no money and no future market for the product. As well as research grants, institutions are also receiving support from organizations such as the Cancer Research Society. Millions of dollars are also being ploughed into genetic engineering research by the biotechnological industry and to a lesser extent the pharmaceutical industry who see the potential for huge profits as do market analysts and investors.

At present highly profitable beauty and health industries have the market cornered, plastic surgery for enhancement is common practice, for example check the plastic surgeon directory. Creams to stop wrinkles abound on chemists (pharmacists) shelves, anti-aging pills, memory pills, pills to make you more potent. But some companies within the biotechnology field are gearing up to challenge that position. As a race it seems we are desperate to alter ourselves and willing to spend the money doing it, it is not unheard of for people to save for years to pay for surgery to, for example change the much hated nose. The technology for engineering our offspring is getting closer every day, it probably won't be long before we can give our children a 'head start' by deciding which characteristic, features and traits we want for them and the time is also rapidly approaching when we will be able to use genetic engineering to alter ourselves.

The Science

To be able to achieve changes to our appearance scientist are looking at growing, manipulating and altering adult stem cells. These are the cells that are present in the body and get called upon when a repair or renewal job is needed. One method that scientist are currently experimenting with is to create a 'scaffold' using polyethylene terephathalene (PET), or Dacron in the desired shape. Onto this they place pre-adipocytes cells, cells that have begun to differentiate into fat cells, and allow them to grow into new tissue. This technique is being seen as having the potential to replace current methods for breast augmentation, reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. There is also a significant field of study into the use of stem cells and gene therapy within dentistry. Some of the techniques being tried involve extracting and reprogramming cells to behave as teeth growing cells, but probably closer at hand is the technology for implanting regenerative cells into existing teeth.

The Debate

The first paragraph of this article posed a number of questions:
  what if certain looks or traits become ubiquitous?
  will we become a homogeneous Orwellian society not only looking alike, but thinking alike?
  So is it likely that we will become an Orwellian society, all looking, thinking and behaving the same?

The answer is hopefully and most probably "no". As a species we exercise individual desire and free will and unless some Machiavellian plot is put in place that deprives all of humanity of the ability to exercise free will, this is unlikely to change.

If we look at the world of now we find that the old adage 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' is still true. Across the world definitions of beauty vary extensively according to locally established norms and ideals. Time also changes the idea of beauty: what was desirable 100 years ago is not the same as now. See our page on Physical Attraction for more on the definition of beauty.

Famous Faces

Even though the research shows that looks and intelligence influence our access to power, money and position it still doesn't mean that only one 'look' or one kind of intelligence will be the predominate one. Different appearances fit different positions, for example research shows that pretty young women don't make appealing serious newsreaders, we tend to trust a strong faced, older man in this role. A young handsome man is not seen as experienced or even trustworthy so not much good if you're trying to sell landlord insurance. What this means is you would need to adjust your looks according to your chosen profession. There will always be those who are willing to spend money and time following the latest trend or 'improving' their looks but even now not many people spend the time undergoing plastic surgery to look exactly like their idol or changing their appearance to suit a current style.

For most people the reason they chose to have plastic surgery is that a certain feature is not to their liking. Of course when the techniques outlined above become widely available, safe and reliable it's hard to predict just how far people would be willing to go in order to keep pace with the latest trends. Changing our appearance to keep up with fashion is unlikely to become as common as changing our wardrobe. Our sense of ourselves and our individuality may override the desire to conform to the requirements of the latest fashion to that extent. And there will probably always be the non-conformists, those who deliberately kick against the trends.

In the end, we believe that the human race is comprised of enough individuals who's greatest desire is to maintain their individuality and to fight for their right to exercise free will. What these emerging technologies probably will do is to make it safer and quicker for people to undergo the procedures that are common now. Instead of implanting a lump of silicon to enhance or replace breasts, the patients own cells will be used to grow new fat to the required shape and size. Instead of having a set of false teeth we will have cells implanted into our gums to grow our own new set. The tooth fairy's job will be to collect our baby teeth and store their stem cells for our later life.

In this article the enhancement of intelligence has not been covered becasue intelligence is not really a fashion trend, whereas ideas, thoughts and opinions arguably are. Once we start to genetically modify these then we really are on our way to the Orwellian Society model. This makes it a whole area of study in it's own right and therefore justifies its inclusion on its own page.

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