Professor Robert Winston - 'Modifying Humans: Where does genetics stop?'
Monday 26th September 2016
MODIFYING HUMANS: where does genetics stop?
History shows that humans are obsessed with their genes. Does the sequencing of the human genome really herald a new opportunity for medicine or is there a darker side that we ignore? Moreover, humans have continuously attempted to favour certain characteristics that have been regarded as ‘desirable’. The history of eugenics, from the Supreme Court in the US to the camps in Nazi-occupied Europe, is a prominent stain on the scientific record. IVF treatments now mean we can treat apparently hopeless sterility, help 65 year-olds to conceive, store eggs and embryos in the deep freeze for several hundred years, and screen embryos for serious genetic disorders before a pregnancy has even really begun.
And advances in gene technology mean that we can not only select embryos for ‘desirable’ characteristics but we can now modify genes of animals with remarkable ease; so possibly very soon we may be able to enhance humans by genetic modification. Will ethical considerations prevent us from the next step - manufacturing stronger, more gifted and very intelligent children? Or will our imperfect knowledge of how our abilities are inherited mean that they there are some major surprises in store?