Time for “Three Laws of Genetics”

Britain is just a step away from allowing genetic engineering to change how our future generations are born. Fundamentally the objective is creditable because it is aimed at putting an end to a set of genetic diseases which we inherit from our mothers for no fault of ours. 
More specifically, they are trying to avoid unhealthy genes in the mitochondria of cells that cause genetic diseases like muscle dystrophy or even diabetes. Since mitochondrial genes are inherited only from the mother, by removing the nucleus and placing it in the egg of a healthy donor, they can get rid of the mother’s faulty mitochondria. 
It is a simple procedure but the implications are tremendous. 
To start with there are groups which still oppose these treatments, not because of ethics but because we are trying to move ahead with less or wrong information. For example, even though there have been enormous strides in understanding of genes and human reproduction, no doctor or scientist can guarantee the success of given IVF treatment. In the same way, nobody can predict whether the newly created embryo from which the original mitochondria had been removed will grow normally. Ethical groups are also opposed to indiscriminate creation and destruction of embryos. 
The other problem is more complex. Since the donor mitochondria has minute quantity of genes, future generations will be technically from 3 parents. Even though the mitochondrial genes are less than 0.2% they can alter the characteristics of future generations in ways unknown. Apart from the medical implications, what would be the impact on such a child’s psychology, the idea of a family as well as society? We can only have very uncomfortable guesses.
Finally, the greater question is the ethics of allowing scientists to play God. This incremental tweaking of the human embryo and genes could one day lead to designer babies (how about one with purple skin and green eyes?) or to some ill-conceived utopia of a ‘superior’ human race. 
Perhaps that is why the British government has called for a public consultation. They could have felt that the government alone should not be blamed for the monster they are about to set loose 🙂 
Pragmatically speaking, no one can stop the march of science (even though they can postpone). It is better to have proper guidelines and governance structures in place rather than any outright ban. Serious research should focus on betterment of human life, including getting rid of diseases, genetic or otherwise. These research and techniques also should consider preservation of the human family unit. Other cosmetic activities while cannot be outright eliminated, at least should be relegated to the fringes.
I think it is high time to come out with an universal ‘3 laws of Genetics’ aka Asimov.
More links:

Here lies the future..

Recently, I read the following 2 articles in NY times, which made me think that these are two good opportunities for youngsters to pursue in the future.

One is in genetics. Science had advanced and has become common place to the point that we can get our genes mapped and also identify genetic markers for known diseases. The next step, genetic engineering, I think will reach its hey day in the coming years. Short of creating an utopian state, scientists will increasingly interfere right at the time of birth or before it so that the future generation can get its genes right. Without going into any ethical debate, I think that there is going to be plenty of opportunities to pursue a successful & rewarding career in this field.
The article is not really about genetic engineering but gets you to think on the possibilities. (If someone has a better link about genetics of the future, pls post).
The article below, again, makes you think on the possibilities of robotics, which is the other area poised for immense growth.
While big manufacturing industries, research & prospecting industries already use robots, they have not invaded our personal space so far. However, that is slowly changing. Similar to the computer revolution of the 90’s another big revolution in domestic robotics is just on the horizon. One good example is Roomba – the robotic vacuum cleaner. In recent years, this is one tiny little robot that has made in roads into domestic help. (Btw has anybody purchased it? I looked at a demo & decided our existing vacuum cleaner is better. But unfortunately, I am still from the generation which thinks the broom is better; the vacuum cleaner in my house has a cosy corner to sleep).
Rumour has it that Microsoft is developing a robot operating system (aka DOS) that will inspire another generation of robotic developers to write code to get robots to a zillion things. They already have a Robotics Developer Studio which I think is still miles away from robo-paradise. (http://www.microsoft.com/robotics/)
The invasion of the robots is much nearer than most of us think. Isaac Asimov thought that by 2000 the world would have been taken over by robots. Perhaps he was just 20-25 years off the mark.
Disclosure: Both my kids did robotics courses at school.
Some more articles on robots:

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