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Visions of the Future 2of3 The Biotech Revolution

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Today humankind is witnessing a revolution, a revolution in science that will radically transform all our lives. I believe that we are making the historic transition from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery. An age in which we'll be able to determine the destiny of life itself. In the last century, we unlocked the basic code of life. Now, we are beginning to master it with an unprecedented power. This is the bio-molecular revolution. It promises the almost godlike ability to manipulate life at the most fundamental level. It will enable us to grow human organs in laboratories... Change our genetic heritage... Enhance our abilities... Even shape the evolution of mankind. We are making the transition from being passive observers to the dance of nature to being active choreographers of nature. We are entering an era of unparalleled possibilities which raises profound questions about who we are and how we will live. In this programme, I will show you how we hold the future of humanity in our hands. I'm on my way to a doctor's appointment. But the doctor won't be checking my medical history. He's about to diagnose my medical future. The scientific advances of the 20th century have improved the way we diagnose and treat disease. But the biotech revolution will give us even greater control over our health. The first stage of our mastery of life will allow us to eliminate many diseases and perhaps prolong our lives by decades or even longer. Today, you can go to the doctor's office, get a physical exam, get a clean bill of health, walk out the door and drop dead. That's because we're not born with an owner's manual for our body. Now, that's funny, because I have an owner's manual for my laptop, my VCR, my PC, everything except one... for me. But in the future we'll all have a CD-Rom with all our genes on it, our owner's manual. And today, I'm going to take the first step toward getting my owner's manual. I have my appointment with Dr Harry Ostrer, one of the medics at the forefront of the new revolution in medicine. He's going to map my genes. I'd like to take some information from you about your personal health, any significant medical history that you've had, medications that you may be taking right now. I'm in good health. I have lots of energy and lots of optimism. On my parents' side, they all lived to be in their mid-eighties and now they're getting on in years so, my father passed away, probably because of Alzheimer's. And... And how old was he when he passed away? About 85. And my mother is about 85 now and she has a severe case of Alzheimer's. It's so sad. She can't recognise me. She can't recognise any of her kids. And it's such a... it's such a... so unfair. They struggle all their life for their golden years and then they lose everything. A simple blood test will reveal whether I carry a risk gene for Alzheimer's, or for heart disease, mental illness, diabetes. Indeed, all the major diseases. Soon, genetic screening to map out our entire medical future will be as routine as checking our blood pressure. My own journey into my personal future has begun. On one hand, I'm a scientist and I say to myself, "we're going to get at the truth. " I mean, what's in my genome? So, I'm all in favour of that. But the other side of me says, "wait a minute, this could be a Pandora's box. " Cos all of us, as I understand, have about six, or so, genes that are pretty screwed up. Some of them lethal. And so, in some sense, I'm looking at a side of me that I've never seen before, a side that has potential medical problems lurking there. So... but... but in the main the scientist side of me says, "go for it. " We really do want to be respectful of your privacy as well as the privacy of your relatives. At any point along the way if we're getting into territory that you feel is uncomfortable for you then you know, we'll just move on from there. So, you will have this genome-wide genetic analysis and based on this you'll be said to be at you know, 20% risk for this and 10% risk for that, you know, and you know, 80% risk for a third thing. Screening my personal genetic make-up, indeed, the bio-molecular revolution itself, would have been impossible without the last great scientific project of the 20th century... the human genome project. Good evening. It's taken ten years, it's cost billions of pounds and the result is a giant leap forward in our understanding of the human body. Scientists have now produced the first draft of the human genetic code. They say it's a milestone in human history because it could eventually eliminate many diseases. Thank you... please. We're here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome. Without a doubt this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind. More than 1,000 researchers across six nations have revealed nearly all three billion letters of our miraculous genetic code. When the molecular structure of DNA was unravelled in 1953, who could have conceived that it would lead so rapidly to this great book of life? An encyclopaedia of every one of the genes that make us who we are. It's hard for people to believe, who didn't live through it, that when the genome project started in 1990, the majority of the scientific community were deeply sceptical and even opposed. They didn't think it could be done. Certainly not in the 15-year timetable that was set. And they weren't being sour, there was no technology that was going to do this, it was sort of a leap of faith to imagine that that technology, if encouraged, would come along. And ultimately, when it began to work, the actual sequencing of the human genome, 90% of it got done in about 18 months. Once in a generation, a scientific breakthrough changes the entire scientific landscape. In the 1940s, it was the Manhattan Project which helped to open up the secrets of the atom. In the 1960s, it was the race to the moon which opened up space travel. And now, it's the human genome project which has given us a blueprint for life. I'd like to divide the history of medicine into two eras, BG and AG. Before the genome and after the genome. To me, the human genome project marks the transition from the age of discovery to the age of mastery. Having unravelled the fundamental code of our biology, the stage is set for us to manipulate it. The bio-molecular revolution has begun. The bio-molecular revolution is changing everything including modern medicine. Medicine has gone through at least three basic stages. In the first stage we had the introduction of the germ theory, better sanitation, a modern sewer system. In the second stage we had antibiotics, vaccination, modern surgery. But the third stage is the most profound of all... genetic medicine. Genome science will have a real impact on all our lives and even more on the lives of our children. The impact of genomics on medicine is already being felt. Alexander Locke was born with a severe genetic disease. His story offers us a glimpse into the future of medicine. He sort of started off with a a bit of a cough and a wheeze and was having trouble breathing. So, just took him to the local doctor's and they just said, "oh, bronchiolitis and lots of children get it "at this time of year. " Em, and then gave us some antibiotics and said, "go home and come back if it gets worse. " And it just got worse and worse during the week, and in the end we took him back down to the doctor's and got referred back to hospital again. And then that was it. Didn't really get out of hospital for another nine months. They couldn't understand why he wasn't sort of recovering. And we had various... or he had various tests and the tests gradually became sort of worse and worse, in as much as they were for worse conditions. Em, cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis. And all these really horrible diseases. Yeah, tuberculosis. And then one day, a consultant came into the room with the senior nurse and said, "you need to sit down. " He said, "look, you know, he has SCID - Severe Combined Immune Deficiency. " It all kicked off from there really. Just really simply, it just meant that he didn't really have an immune system. So, he couldn't deal with any infection, whether it was bacterial, viral, fungal. And any of those three things could kill him. So, something needed to be done to actually save his life. SCID is generally known as the bubble boy condition, an illness so severe that for eight whole months Alexander's parents could only visit him in a filtered, airlocked, hospital room. Without a definitive treatment these children usually die in the first year of life. The immune system grows from our bone marrows, and because in these children the immune system is abnormal, what has happened in the past is that we've taken the bone marrow from another individual, who is matched to the patient, and put that bone marrow into the patient and allowed the immune system to grow. But unfortunately we couldn't find a donor. The stroke of luck was the fact that the form of immune deficiency that he had was genetic, X-linked. Not all immune deficiencies are genetic. So, it was mooted early on, possibly if it turned out to be a genetic form of the disease then perhaps we could look at gene therapy. Dr Gaspar had been working on an experimental trial of gene therapy that effectively switches off the rogue genes that cause SCID. We take the bone marrow, we isolate the early cells of the bone marrow, the so-called stem cells and we culture those cells with the virus that contains a working copy of the gene. And these genetically modified stem cells are given back into the patient so that a new immune system can be allowed to grow. The gene therapy had almost instant effect. The benefit was very quick and his lungs improved very quickly. I think probably by the time he was about two you're staring to feel, oh, yeah... this is really... really good, really great. We got our life back, basically, and our little boy. Yeah, that's true. For him, he has got a life. He wouldn't be here now. I mean, that's for sure. We do have, essentially, a well little boy which is fantastic. Alexander Locke is a living example of our new mastery of life, a signpost to the future of medicine. Go on, in goal. Hey, look at you. Ready steady. Ready steady. The gene therapy that cured Alexander is only a first step. Where did it go? The great promise of genetic medicine is that it may eventually eradicate many of the diseases that threaten our lives. Looking back, a disease like SCIDs was actually an easy target for gene therapy. That's because it's caused by a single rogue gene. But the real scary killers, like cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease, are caused by multiple rogue genes interacting with the environment. That's why sequencing these diseases would represent a milestone in the history of modern medicine. Here in the US, for example, 2,500 people die of cancer every day. That's one cancer death every 30 seconds. One person has died of cancer since I began speaking. Scientists hope that the genome of cancers could be the key to uncover the root causes of these incredibly complex diseases. So, the human genome project has been succeeded by an even more ambitious undertaking a map to a cancer-free future, the cancer genome atlas. We know that cancer is caused by mutations in DNA. So, the idea of the cancer genome atlas is to take all of the tools of genomics to figure out how the DNA is functioning in a tumour cell and apply them. Ultimately try to look at all of the common cancers, which is about 50. For each of those cancers we would want to look at hundreds of tumours of that type. So, when you do the math, if we're going to do maybe 50 tumour types and for each tumour type we're going to do maybe 250 individual cancers and we're going to try to sequence all of that DNA, you're talking about 12,500 human genome projects. That sounds pretty scary. But you know what? It could be done in the course of the next three to five years. The cancer genome project is a truly monumental task. Its goal is nothing less than to compile an encyclopaedia of all known cancers, documenting every single genetic mutation in all known cancers. And yet Francis Collins believes it's doable and that cancer is preventable. Well, so do I. And that's because we have a secret weapon in our arsenal and that secret weapon is the merger between the biotech and the computer revolutions. Housed in the unlikely setting of a former chapel in Barcelona is one of the largest computers in the world today. The massive advances in our understanding of biology, indeed the human genome project itself, have all been due to the exponentially growing ability of computers to perform increasingly complex biological analyses. MareNostrum is a monster of a computer. The most powerful in all of Europe. It weighs 40 tonnes, it has the power of 20,000 PCs and it computes at a 100 trillion operations per second. It would take a human on a calculator ten million years to do what this computer can do in one second. Biomedical research has transformed from a largely experimentally-based, somewhat empirical approach, you know, mixing things in tubes, to what is now a truly digital science. Biology has come of age. It takes its place beside physics and chemistry as a quantitative rigorous digital science. And that's good, that gives us a much broader ability to really get to the bottom of why illness occurs. Supercomputers like MareNostrum enable us not only to identify the genetic roots of most killer diseases, but they also open the possibility of manipulating genes to prevent or cure those diseases. What the biotechnology revolution promises is to literally re-programme our biology. So, we have the means of actually turning genes off, adding new genes, we can turn on and off enzymes and proteins and other levels of how genes express themselves and treat biology as a set of information processes. We will have the means within ten or 15 years, I believe, of reprogramming biology away from cancer, away from heart disease, really overcome the major diseases that kill us. And we're in the early stages of that but an important thing to understand is that our ability to do this is growing exponentially. It's literally doubling every year. The synergy of the computer and the biotech revolutions is propelling us into a future of unprecedented medical mastery, a mastery that will have profound implications on our lives. What will it mean for us if our medical history will be irrelevant, compared to the medical future written in our genes, if we know in advance all the risks our genes may hold in store for us? My own DNA test results are now ready to collect, and I have to say I'm a little bit apprehensive. Part of me says, out of sight, out of mind. But the other part of me says, well, even if it's out of your sight and out of your mind, it's not out of your body. It's not going to go away just because you don't think about it. It's there. And so it seems to me that it's better to confront reality than to simply ignore reality. Wow! Here are your results right here. So, here it is. Here's a CD that has your information on it that you can take home with you. You did have this risk marker for heart disease, for coronary artery disease, and your risk was about twofold increase compared to the population... Double. Right. If we put that in context for you, coronary artery disease affects about six per thousand Japanese individuals. So, you know, it's not terribly common. So, in other words I have twice the risk of getting heart disease, but the average person, the average Japanese, has a very low incidence of heart disease. That's correct. Hm. Well, that's good news. It is. That is good news. But what about the health risk that was foremost in my mind... the risk of Alzheimer's disease? Before I took the test for Alzheimer's I had to ask myself a very serious question. What happens... what happens in the case that it comes out positive? And I said to myself, if it was positive I would have to sit down with my family, sit down with my children, my wife, and tell them the truth and then lay out a sequence of what to expect in the future. How far should they go to take care of me? What measures should they take? What about getting my own financial affairs in order? All of these thoughts went screaming through my head just before I took the Alzheimer's test. To my huge relief the test came out negative. While I do have an increased Alzheimer's risk due to my parents' history, I don't carry the major known risk factor gene for Alzheimer's. But one thing I learned and that is when you take one of these DNA tests and you find out who are you, it forces you to come to grips with social and ethical questions that you'd never thought about before. It won't take long before everybody will have their personal DNA profile on a disk. This could revolutionise healthcare. But it also raises questions, both for the individual and for society as a whole. It might have a very sharp effect on our vision of ourselves, through producing a sort of genetic determinism. Everything's known, everything's determined. My future is known if I have my own DNA on a chip. What does that mean? Before that we sort of look on the human condition as having infinite potentiality, what happens to us is undetermined. Now suddenly we begin to have this knowledge, that tremendous aspects of our growth and our diseases, is genetically determined. One of the radical things that was done with the human genome project was, from the beginning, to take responsibility for investigating the ethical, legal and social implications of what this research might lead to. I think the most egregious misuse that the public has identified is this issue of discrimination. Here in the US, we've been fighting for 12 years, to try to get genetic discrimination, that is using your DNA against you, made illegal. That shouldn't happen. You shouldn't lose your healthcare or your job because you have a particular spelling of a particular gene out of your control. And it would be a terrible tragedy if what occurred were events of that sort and there are examples where that happened. Knowing our genes is only the first step towards our future mastery of life. The bio-molecular revolution will not only enable us to prevent and cure many fatal diseases, it'll go even further. It will enable us to repair and re-grow the tissues and organs that our bodies are made of. Years ago, I was in a car accident and the front part of the car was totalled and I thought I'd never see the car again. Well, the car was sent to a body shop and it came back brand new. I was amazed. And I thought, if they can do this with cars, why can't they do this with people? Well, the human body shop is becoming a reality. Here at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, scientists are engineering replacement organs in the lab. The way that these organs are created is you actually build up the organs by placing the cells onto a three-dimensional scaffold. So, the cells and tissues grow on these scaffolds and as the tissue matures this mould actually goes away. So, if you wanted to make an ear or a nose, the scaffolding looks like a nose and looks like an ear? That's correct. The mould actually takes the shape of the tissue or organ we're trying to replace. What kinds of moulds? You could have a mould of a bladder, for example. Is that how it's done? That's how it's done. We create a mould specifically shaped like a bladder. The moulds actually are built to degrade over time inside the body, but they're shaped just like the tissue or organ that you're trying to replace. So, when we talk about the bladder, for example, we're taking the muscle cells and seeding those on the outside, and we place the other cells on the inside, the bladder-specific cells. It's very much like baking a layer cake, if you will. We have been able to grow now, several types of organs and tissues, including cartilage, skin of course, as well as other more complex organs in the laboratory, such as blood vessels... Windpipes... Small kidneys... And other tissues and organs as well which are even more complex. To some, these replacement organs foreshadow a Frankenstein future. But to me, they are a miraculous example of our growing mastery over life. And these are not just lab curiosities. In 2006, Atala published a study in which he revealed that he had successfully transplanted re-engineered bladder parts into seven patients. Atala's transplants are grown from the patient's own cells, so there were none of the rejection issues that are often encountered with transplants from donors. In the future we could all keep a stockpile of our own organ transplants for emergencies. What we can foresee in the future is in fact having a ready-made supply of organs off the shelf that you can just take out and plug in as needed. We are heading towards a future that will offer us the ability to regenerate and perfect our inner organs in the same way plastic surgery can reconstruct our outward appearance. A future where disease and defects might no longer be part of the human condition. Here's someone who's had several challenges, who's had a serious disease they've overcome. Here's someone who's never been in pain, someone who's never suffered any reversals, who's mentally and physically completely normal, if you like, or completely untrammelled. Which would be the more interesting person? Who would have lived life and explored their humanity more? I think that's an interesting debate, not one easily answered because no-one wants suffering. And if in the coming decades we can simply regenerate our bodies, what will that mean for the human lifespan? Our growing mastery over life is about to challenge what it means to get older. In 1939, these couples, who had lived long enough to celebrate 50 years of marriage, made it into the newsreels. Today we routinely expect to live into our eighties and anticipate even longer lives in the future. Given the rate at which science is progressing and making breakthroughs, is it feasible in the future that your kids, grandkids, may be able to enjoy life extension? I would think that maybe my great grandchildren could live to be 125, for instance. That wouldn't surprise me. That would be nice. It seems to me that it would be extremely unlikely that our lifespan would not be extended. But not just live longer, but have a better life before then, so that we wouldn't be incapacitated for those later years so much. In short, a longer life but more good years during that life. So, if the fountain of youth were available, do you think you might want to take a sip? Yes, I'd take a gulp. For thousands of years, emperors, kings and queens have sought the fountain of youth and they failed. But today, because of modern medicine we can actually double the lifespan of almost every single living organism and we can now conceive of the fact that would could live into our nineties and even into our hundreds. Medicine is growing exponentially fast and we're now beginning to unlock for the first time the molecular secret of the ageing process itself. Here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scientists believe they have made a breakthrough in ageing research. They have identified what might be a plausible candidate for the fabled longevity gene. Where the genetics, I think, is most important is relating to this process called calorie restriction. Which is a diet that was discovered some 75 years ago and can slow down the ageing process in rodents and in every other system where it's been tested. It's been known for all these years and nobody knew how it worked. And it turns out, we now think, as of the past five years or so, that it has a genetic basis and that there are a few number of genes that dictate the effects of calorie restriction and can impact on the ageing process. So, it's possible to reap the benefits of caloric restriction... reduce disease, cancers, tumours, and increase longevity without the adverse effects of having to starve ourselves? That's what we hope. So, we think that we've, in my lab and now other labs, have identified a set of related genes called sirtuins that are responsible for delivering the benefit of calorie restriction. So, what one would want to do then is develop drugs that can target sirtuins, change their activities. My personal feeling is, if you affect the underlying ageing process you will favourably impact all the major diseases of ageing. Keep you healthier longer and live longer. There are real, hard nosed scientists, who have got a big bet going on right now and the bet is that the first person to robustly live to the age of 150 IS already alive today. That's the bet they've got going. And the only question is, how old is this person today? And some of them think that this person could be in their fifties or sixties today. Perhaps all you have to do is to live in a healthy fashion for the next 20 years and you could end up living for a very long time because all that has to happen in this scenario is for the technology to be advancing faster than you're ageing, and you could be something like immortal. A credible scenario. Could happen. The nature of life is not mortality, it's immortality. DNA is an immortal molecule. That molecule was first known to be on earth perhaps three and a half billion years ago. That selfsame molecule, through duplication and reduplication and variation, is around today. That molecule has been doing that for three and a half billion years, which is as close to immortality as you will get on planet Earth. Now, it's true that we run out and run down, but we've talked about projecting way into the future the ability to alter that. First to modify it, so we extend our lives by two or threefold and then perhaps' if we understand the brain well enough, to extend both our bodies and our brains indefinitely. And I don't think that will be an unnatural process. No-one can deny the enormous power and potential of the bio-molecular revolution - the power to make us healthier, better, stronger, the power to enrich our lives. The power to prolong our lives by years or even decades, or perhaps even to make us immortal. But such power also raises serious questions. Our recognition, our conscious recognition of the finitude of our lives is key in how we live our lives. Virtually every aspect of our lives is governed by our sense of self and our sense of when we will age and then, of course, when we will die. One really has to think seriously about tampering with the ageing process and what its implications might be. I don't think we should worry so much about whether we want to live for hundreds of years, but why we would want to. We should worry about what we would do with that time. I think that says more about us and it's a more important question than delivering with technology. It's why you want to do it and what you're going to do with it that's important. But the questions raised by the revolution in biotechnology go much further because the prospect of healthier and longer lives is only the first stage in our mastery of life. In the next stage we'll start to control not just our own biology but that of future generations. We'll even begin to tamper with human evolution itself. International pressure for a ban grows following news last week that scientists had successfully cloned a sheep. In 1996, the arrival of the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, sent shock waves around the world. The Pope implied such experiments were dangerous. Today, Italy banned cloning experiments. So did Argentina. President Clinton favours a total ban on human cloning. Throughout human history we've been tampering with evolution by cultivating new strains of crops or breeding new varieties of farm animals. But Dolly the sheep demonstrated that we can now manipulate the genome of animals directly. For the first time in human history we are literally able to play god. The question is, how will we use this new godlike power? How far will we go? Over ten years ago, Dolly the sheep made world history by being the first mammal to be cloned in a laboratory. Since then, in some sense, we've gotten used to it. After all, we've cloned mice, cats, sheep, cattle, horses. In fact, we even have clones of clones. So some people say, "what's all the fuss about?" Other people say, "well, I'm spooked by this technology because we're not cloning plants any more, "we're cloning four-legged mammals. " But whatever you think about cloning it's going to be part of the future. The seismic shock that greeted Dolly the sheep has already given way to a whole industry of cloned animals. Here at the Marquess Ranch in Texas, genetic science is making it possible to breed, as it were, perfect animals. Line after line of prize-worthy Texas longhorn cattle. Every single one of them is a clone. There's four different cloned families. Look at that. Amazing. If you look from right to left. One, two, three, four. There's ten red ones there. They're all the same. They're identical. Genetically identical. And then there's three separate ones, singles on the end there. So, there's four cloned families there. Wow. A cloned family, right? A cloned family, yes. That's going to belong in the English vocabulary pretty soon. The calf walking up to us from back there, see over the back of this one, is a clone of her. Ah, she's a clone of this one. This is a clone, and that's a clone of a clone. We have to invent a new word for the English language, of a clone of a clone of a clone. Just call her Cloney Clone, it's OK. Now, if you look, these girls have all lined up for us. Yeah, look at that. You know they... They're all clones of each other. ... they're all identical. But breeding identical twins, making visual copies of the animals, is not the prime purpose. Cloning enables Ron Marquess to bypass nature's natural selection and breed animals of an assured strength and pedigree. Now, prize bulls are worth an enormous amount of money. Right. If you can simply clone a prize bull, we're talking about a big economic advantage here, right? Well, the whole idea of it is genetics, you know. And in the longhorn world we only have a half a million longhorns in the whole entire world. That's it. That's it. And there's probably 6,000 members in the two associations worldwide, with half a million cows. So yeah, the prize bull is what we're looking for. That's what we're trying to raise. That's one of the reasons we have so many cloned heifers. We're looking to raise the next prize bull. Right. So, you think that this is the future? Ten, twenty years in the future you could be at the cutting edge of a revolution? Well, I think it's where we're at, yes. I really do. I think that's where we started four or five years ago when I first was introduced to cloning and did the research on it, so on, and that's the way I saw the future that's why I decided that we could... well, it was proven to me that we could take one animal, one top of the line animal, and reproduce that animal several times, and it gave us a breeding edge to find the next great animal. Because a breeder, doesn't make any difference what you're breeding, any animal in the world... a good breeder takes a male and female and produces better. If you produce them worse, then you're losing ground. With cloning, we know what we're going to get when we get it. Have you thought about what would happen if, one day in the future, we have human clones? You have to think about it. I mean, that's part of just being human is thinking about it. I don't think we have that to worry about, at least in my lifetime. I don't think the government's going to allow it. There's not any works being done on cloning humans and there won't be. Human cloning could happen now. All you need is to split an embryo and freeze one of the identical twins, implant it years later and you'd have two identical individuals of different ages. We can clone and we will be able to clone in other ways in the future. So, I think that the reality is that we'll have to make choices about what sorts of applications to embrace. Imagine a couple has only a small number of embryos and can't produce any more and they're infertile, and we could clone some of those embryos in case they don't implant. I don't see any ethical objection to cloning in that circumstance. So, there may be reasons to clone and reasons against it. We have to take it on a case by case basis. I don't see any reason, if the technology was safe, to reject it in total. I personally believe that most nations will ban human cloning. But how do you stop an underground laboratory from offering cloning to rich people who want to give their money to themselves as children and start all over again? I mean, you can't completely stop that. So, I think we're just going to have to get used to the fact that a tiny fraction of the human race will be clones. Yet, human cloning is just one of the issues raised by our ability to manipulate life at the most fundamental level. Because we'll be able to change human nature itself... We will have the power to genetically enhance ourselves to give us abilities beyond our biological heritage. It's already possible in animals. This is a normal mouse in a test environment. When one of the two objects is replaced, the mouse doesn't seem to notice the change. This mouse, on the other hand, behaves very differently. It immediately recognises the toy puppy as a new object. That's because this mouse has been genetically modified to produce higher levels of a brain protein which dramatically enhances its learning and memory. In another experiment, the water maze test, normal mice cannot remember how to find a platform hidden under cloudy water. Instead of remembering the location of the platform, this unmodified mouse finds it merely by accident. Compare this to a genetically modified smart mouse. It remembers where the hidden platform is. We're very similar in our genomic sequence and composition to mice. And theoretically it could also increase learning and memory in humans. Memory enhancement is certainly within the realm of scientific possibility. I believe it's ongoing right now. Studies to increase the ability of experimental animals and humans to acquire information is real. Its experiments are ongoing now. And I believe in the next 10, 20, certainly 30 years, that such memory enhancers will be available. And we may be able to alter not just our intellectual but also our physical abilities. The mouse on the right has been genetically engineered to be stronger than the normal mouse on the left. It can run twice as long as the normal mouse. So, what does that mean for us? Will we do what we can already do in animals and use this mastery of life to enhance ourselves? I believe we will. Our society is built on maximising performance, on being better than others. It's nowhere more evident than in sports. Let's say in the future it's possible to genetically enhance yourself to give you more muscle mass, more speed and coordination, would you take it? Yeah, definitely. Cos if I'm doing it, my team mates are doing it, opponents are doing it, and sports is about gaining an advantage against your opponent. So, yes. I think technology as a whole improves, whether it's the human body or just technology outside of the human body. People are coming to watch a great sports event, and if you can give them something greater to watch, why wouldn't you do that to the greatest extent you can? As a professional, you're going to do everything you can to be the best at your position and to move forward and kind of go up the ladder and things like that. And as a professional you have that 35 million-dollar contract staring you in the face, you're going to do whatever you can to get that contract. Some people think that sport should be a test of natural biological potential. Even if you thought that sport should be a test of natural potential, why think the rest of life should be a test of our natural potential? Because after all, people are born with horribly short straws, with very few opportunities because of what nature has dealt them. Why not allow people to have a better go, of a better life? The fact is that nature allots all sorts of abilities and talents in a random way. It's not fair and I don't see why we should let people's lives be determined by the throw of a dice. The whole topic of enhancement, I think, causes people pause. It causes me pause. Suppose we develop by our understanding of how the genome works and therefore how the body works, an approach that would improve memory, what's wrong with that? Or an approach that would make all of us able to stay slender even if we were being fairly careless about our diets. What's wrong with that? Well, it does raise the question about who decides what's an improvement, and is that improvement something which is going to be available to all or will it be another example of separating between people who have resources and people who don't? The key question is what happens to society if everyone is clamouring to have their status and their capabilities boosted? And in a worst case scenario, what happens is that society itself begins to fracture, on one hand into a race of super-beings, and on the other hand, the rest of us. I see a genetic divide between the haves and the have-nots as a possibility that is of concern. Given accessibility of these techniques that will be coming on the market, whether it's approved or not approved, if it's available, and it's available in a country or a location somewhere, people will use it. We've seen that. There's plenty of evidence to that effect. The potential social implications of genetic enhancement will become even more serious once we take one further step and modify not only our own genes but also the genetic make-up of our children. In 20 to 30 years, we'll be able to control not just our personal genome but the genetic heritage of the entire human race. So, the question is, how far do we want to push this technology? I mean, already there's an international black market in human growth hormone as parents try to control the height of their kids. In the future, we'll be able to control the genes of our kids. Will we have a generation of designer children? I think that really we need public debate and public reflection on exactly why you want your child to be perfect, perfect. Would that be giving them a happier and more fulfilling life if they were perfect? One end of the spectrum is we don't want them to be morbidly obese or clinically depressed. On the other hand, I would hope that people would want their children to be diverse and interesting and interested in others, rather than everyone the same and everyone perfect. We attempt to design our children if you want to put it that way, when we educate them, when we try to instil social ideals, when we try to make them cooperative social beings, when we take them to violin or sports lessons. All of these things attempt to shape our children into people who will have better lives. There is no reason to treat these environmental interventions any differently to direct biological intervention. What we want is our children to have better lives. How those better lives are brought about shouldn't make a significant moral difference. When my kids were young, I used to give them violin lessons and special tutoring. Now I realise that we parents, in some sense, are genetically hard-wired to give every evolutionary benefit and advantage to our kids. If I found out that my neighbour's kids were genetically modified to have better memory and they were going to compete against my kids in school, that would put an enormous pressure on me to modify my own kids. Well, you may say, why not simply ban some of this technology? Well, there's a problem. We can't control the trade in illegal drugs. Do you think we're going to be able to control the trade in illegal genes? If we could pass down genetically enhanced genes, we could evolve in a different way. This is a serious issue to be waking up to now in 2007, and I'm concerned that this advance in biotechnology that makes it conceivable to modify the human genome, we see this, that these procedures are possible, are happening, that we're not thinking actively enough about what the impact will be, 15, 20, 30, 100 years from now. And we can't afford not to think about it and not to be prepared. We're at an inflexion point in history. For the first time in hundreds of thousands of years, our technologies are not so much aimed outward at modifying our environment in the fashion of fire or clothes or cities, agriculture, space travel. Increasingly, these technologies are aimed inward at modifying our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities and our kids. And this is not in some distant science fiction future, this is right now. And what's shocking about this is that if you can do all that you're talking about humans becoming the first species to really take control of their own evolution. Many scientists are confident that at some point in this century we will have the means of engineering a new species of humans that transcends our current evolutionary boundaries. And there's a growing international movement that welcomes this prospect... the Transhumanists. In San Francisco, I'm meeting one of its most vociferous proponents, Anne Corwin. Technology is not necessarily something to be feared or rejected on the basis that it's unnatural. We need to look carefully at each new emerging technology and see how it might allow us to shed some of the limitations that evolution has foisted upon us. So, you think that nature is in some sense an unfinished piece of work? I... I think nature is always an unfinished piece of work and the sorts of ideas that people who might call themselves transhumanists have about, you know, modifying or enhancing human capacities are an extension of nature in a sense. It's sort of like making evolution more self-directed according to conscious intent, as opposed to just by randomness or the blind forces of nature. But some people fear that if everyone has a choice to go whichever genetic direction they want, we're going to scatter in ten thousand directions and... I think that's great. I like that idea of scattering. But some people think. our whole concept of homo sapiens will begin to dissolve and we may begin to factionalise, war with each other, and dissolve into different genetic tribes. Since we have people warring with each other based on factioning along geographical tribes, I don't really see why having that happen due to self-modification would be any worse. I agree with the transhumanist movement that we're going to be coming more than we have been. But in my mind it's still human. We're really transcending our biology, not our humanity. We're the only species that seeks to change who we are. No other species does that, and that's not a new story. If we didn't change who we are, we would live 25 years old. That was the life expectancy a thousand years ago. We already put all kinds of things in our bodies, drugs and devices and we change who we are. That is actually what is unique about the human species. We are the species that seeks to extend ourselves through our knowledge. In the end, we are all looking into the future with a degree of uncertainty, with a degree of trepidation about the potential uses of biotechnology. As we move into this new age at an ever-accelerating rate it's our choice as to how radically different life might become. It's up to us in the end how we construct the future of humanity. It's possible that there will be a genetic divide. but these are choices that we have the power to make ourselves. Whether we split or stay together, whether enhancements are made available to everyone or only to the rich is up to us. It's our choice. For me, the big question is for the first time ever human beings have the potential to be many different things and to do many different things. Previously we were constrained by our place in society, by biology, by socioeconomic forces, by world events, into living lives that were constrained and usually somewhat curtailed, and always bent on survival and living through the day. For the first time those things are not going to apply. For the first time we're being challenged to just push ourselves to our limits. And I think that we need to really rethink what we want our society to be. We need to worry about how to retain our diversity and our individuality. As we leave the age of scientific discovery and enter the age of scientific mastery, the pace of science is accelerating. In the future, we may even have nearly godlike powers. The power to affect human evolution and perhaps even create a transhuman species. This power gives us unparalleled possibilities but also great responsibilities. One day, we'll be able to cure most diseases, lengthen the human lifespan and even enhance our capabilities. But science by itself only gives us options and opportunities. In fact, there's a danger that one day the human race itself may begin to fracture, creating genetic apartheid. So, that's why I say the key is to engage in reasoned democratic debate. That's the crucial factor, and that's why I say, let this be a wake up call, let the debate begin. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

Video Details

Duration: 58 minutes and 37 seconds
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Producer: BBC
Views: 4,299
Posted by: asianos on Dec 31, 2009


Genetics and biotechnology promise a future of unprecedented health and longevity: DNA screening could prevent many diseases, gene therapy could cure them and, thanks to lab-grown organs, the human body could be repaired as easily as a car, with spare parts readily available. Ultimately, the ageing process itself could be slowed down or even halted.

But what impact will this have on who we are and how we will live? And, with our mastery of the genome, will the human race end up in a world divided by genetic apartheid?

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