- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 1999

Normally, one would expect to find the headline, "Scientists Place Jellyfish Genes Into Monkeys," in a supermarket tabloid next to a badly doctored photograph of a Portuguese Man-of War with the head of a chimpanzee smiling into the camera. Last Thursday, however, it appeared on the front page of The New York Times. This was serious journalism reporting serious science there were no whimsical pictures. When I first saw the headline, I mused to my wife that crossing a jellyfish with a monkey was redundant: "We don't need any more spineless rascals we already have enough politicians." But, reading the article, it became obvious that the dangers of genetic engineering are not generations away they are right around the corner.
As we are now two days away from the end of the second millennium, permit me to add to the "best of" and "worst of" lists. I suspect that a thousand years from now, when our descendants look back to 2000 A.D., they will barely note any of the great struggles we have been engaged in. Even Einstein's earlier breakthroughs in physics will get the briefest of mentions.
The overwhelming event perhaps as important to our descendants as the birth of Jesus is to us will be the stunning fact that within a few years of 2000 A.D. mankind stopped evolving naturally and, through genetic engineering of human embryos, started to redesign humanity. 2000 A.D. will be the conveniently designated end point of humans, and the beginning of what Harvard Professor E.O. Wilson calls, "post-humans." As a species, we are about to "volitionally evolve." The New York Times story reports that scientists successfully injected a jellyfish gene which causes a fluorescent green glow in jellyfish into monkey sperm. And then, through a process called "intracytoplasmic sperm injection" (the scientific alternative to making whoopee), they impregnated the mother monkey eggs with the jellyfish-modified male monkey sperm. Sure enough, not only did the proud father glow with pride, the monkey embryos glowed fluorescent green like a jellyfish which the monkey embryo now, in part, is.
As man is about 97 percent the same genetically as a higher primate, the scientists in The New York Times story pointed out that if they can do it with monkeys, they can probably do it with men. "What stands out, some experts said, is how simple the method is." One of the leading scientists in the field is quoted: "I fall back on the fact that I am an ethical, religious man. People think technology is forging way ahead of biology, ethics and common sense. All of us think about this all the time. All of the clinicians wonder what we are doing."
As they bloody well should. When man invents something, he promptly starts using it. By way of example, we first tested the atomic bomb on July 16, 1945. We used it in Hiroshima just three weeks later. Once a team of scientists announces that they can genetically engineer a gene to correct or prevent AIDS, how many weeks do you suppose it will be before the public and the all too helpful congressmen and senators will start demanding that the Food and Drug Administration authorize its use?
I don't blame them; it's just human nature. But that's the point. Once we start changing genes, even for purely medical or health reasons, how much longer will our nature be human? In genetic studies there are two terms worth knowing: polygenic inheritance and pleiotropy.
The first means it sometimes takes more than one gene to control a single trait. The second term means that a single gene may affect more than one trait. That means that, perhaps it will be found that it takes six genes to cure AIDS or cancer, but each of those six genes will affect other traits that are not yet identified. So in the process of curing a disease we may inadvertently change they way our brain processes information or how our eyes see color, or whether the superego stays in balance with the id. As we change the basic chemistry of the body, we inevitably will change our sense of perception and morality.
These changes, small and experimental at first, inevitably will snowball. As science can make us taller, smarter, stronger, healthier, who will have the wisdom, courage and political strength to say no? If the rich get it first, the rest of us will demand our rights. If we invest in research to cure a disease suffered disproportionately by one ethnic group, surely other ethnic groups will demand research into "their" diseases. The politics of the next century will try to outlaw, or put limits on genetic engineering. It will probably fail.
In Greek mythology Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. He was rewarded by being chained to a rock where an eagle tore at his liver. According to our Bible, on the sixth day, God created man in His own image. Now, man will start creating himself. What will our punishment be?

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