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Blade Runner vs Change Agent

DNA is a fascinating world. That single molecule of life contains all the information about individual living being. Any bacteria, plant, insect, algae, fish, animal or human grows from that one molecule seed. Probably even some alien form still waiting to be discovered on some moon orbiting Jupiter or Saturn. In one way or another, the same could be true with all life in the universe. All of us are grown from that single instructions manual inside the single DNA set of written directions. And there are no two identical DNA in existence, even if we could mix the same two identical human egg and sperm cells several times, similar but different resulted DNA would always be the outcome. We are surely still not mastering the DNA and bio-engineering - it is still young science and even though one giant molecule of life was hinted by various scientists and scholars more than century ago, it was only in early fifties of 20th century when James Watson and Francis Crick created the first double-helix model of DNA structure. Discovery and sequencing of the genome codes responsible for various features and properties of a living beings started almost immediately afterwards. Of course, morality and potential hazards of cracking the code followed and by today we have lots of different opinions of what future of DNA research should look like and what kind of practical applications and engineering would be made out of it for our own species.

Harrison Ford in 'Blade Runner' by Ridley Scott

Surely, curing genetic diseases comes first in mind and there is no doubt this will be something extraordinary for the future edits of human embryos. The only 'problem' is what the definition of 'disease' is. If you ask different people and scientists you will get different answers and the most interesting one comes from the very co-founder of the double-helix, James Watson, who once said that stupidity is sort of genetic disease and if we can cure it in the future we should do it. The same goes with not appealing physical appearances, he joked that having all girls genetically altered to be pretty would not be that bad either.

But even before getting into genetically modifying of the genome sequences of embryos, morality is knocking on our future doors already - consider this - way before going into pregnancy, future couple might be able to have a glimpse of their potential children just by interpreting DNA sequences of embryos and to project the 3D image of offsprings live on screen. They would be able to know not just the physical appearance of their potential sons and daughters but also other features, such as estimates of their IQ or medical hazards in their adult age. Scary or not, future couples might be able to choose their children from the bag of their frozen embryos that can be produced in vast numbers and easily. I don't know about you but having a picture of, say my potential daughter and choosing for her not to be born is a huge moral decision. I don't think I could do it. Not without serious consequences.

But before giving a thought or two about more serious genetic engineering and genome modification in spirit of the new Daniel Suarez novel called 'Changed Agent' let me start the review with one old and epic cyberpunk movie from the eighties. Blade Runner. I did mention this great film back in the day within the post 'Cuberpunked Future' but now in light of 35 years of genetic research after the movie was filmed, after all the GMO controversies, after Dolly, the cloned sheep and many more fictitious books and movies with the genetic engineering in the background, I think Blade Runner does not really belong to cyberpunk genre anymore. Genetic modification is not something what we expect to happen in distant future and it is not walking on the edge between the reality and fiction anymore. It is happening now and I believe it will not take long to gain more knowledge and understanding of DNA code in order to achieve the holy grail from described prediction - to create a detailed image of a living being just by looking into DNA molecule of a single piece of hair or tiny drop of the blood. I will leave it to you to conclude what we might do with this futuristic device, but one particular study comes to my mind first with relation to ancient DNA or persisted samples of i.e. neanderthals which stuck to minerals or in the layers of sediment. One day we might literally create a photographs of ancient people and extinct species.

Anyhow, later this year new sequel of Blade Runner is announced and if it is going to be only half as good as the first movie, it would be another epic masterpiece in science fiction genre. Furthermore, after 35 years, new filming CGI allows now further explanation of the creation of replicants and genetic modifications themselves and according to the trailer (embedded above) it all looks more than promising.

Triangulation 297 with Daniel Suarez

Finally in conclusion of this short glimpse into genetic modifications of humans, thanks to the new Daniel Suarez novel 'Change Agent', what I have learned before while reading about GMO in realm of microbiological life, plants, animals and food in general is now widely expanded to the level of potential future of the dark side of human DNA edits. Like anything else that comes with prefix of being breakthrough discovery in history of mankind, genetic editing comes in wide variety of great possibilities with curing genetic diseases and enhancing human body to fight more easily with 'ordinary' infections and diseases, including cancer. But also it provides ways of destructive and to say the least, non-ethical features and procedures that might reshape human evolution to the edge of self-destruction. 'Change Agent' is dealing with this dark side of genetics in the near future that could come very soon after we reach fully understanding of DNA and possible alterations of genomes.

Daniel's new book is not just a pure Sci-fi prediction of the future, but also one great thriller and adventure novel centered on the outcome of one additional prediction of what might happen if editing of a single human being would be possible during the adulthood (editing more than 30 trillion cells in human body in the same time). Now, if you ask me this is walking side by side to the impossible or at least resembles more to the far-stretched cyberpunk prediction, but who knows, I am sure that average reader of Jules Verne's 'From the Earth to the Moon' in the 19th century could have felt the same reading about men sitting in the most powerful cannon launching them into space and toward moon. I am sure, at the time, many were convinced that would never happen.

CRISPR Genome Editing

Still and for the time being, genetic editing of the embryos in their early stages are something more plausible, expected and somewhat tested with GMO research with growing food. However, regarding the plot and twists in the book I will stay with my initial decision not to spoil the stories of the novels and movies I was writing about on the blog and this book will be no exception so I will finish this post now with my full recommendation and for the very end I will only quote Bryan Frey, one of the main characters stating one of the obvious potential outcome if the dark side of the genetic engineering of humans prevails and people start enhancing their children before they are born:

"I don’t imagine we are going to remain a single species for much longer."

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