The Genetics Epidemic

The Revolution in DNA Science -- And What To Do About It

Courtesy Reuters

The revolution in genetic engineering that will make it possible for humans to actively manage our evolutionary process for the first time in our species’ history is already under way. In laboratories and clinics around the world, gene therapies are being successfully deployed to treat a range of diseases, including certain types of immune deficiency, retinal amaurosis, leukemia, myeloma, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s. This miraculous progress is only the beginning. The same already existing technologies that will soon eliminate many diseases that have victimized humans for thousands of years will almost certainly be used eventually to make our species smarter, stronger, and more robust.

The prospect of genetic engineering will be exciting to some, frightening to others, and challenging for all. If not adequately addressed, it will also likely lead to major conflict both within societies and globally. But although the science of human genetic engineering is charging forward at an exponential rate, the global policy framework for ensuring this scientific progress does not lead to destabilizing conflict barely exists at all. The time has come for a meaningful dialogue on the national security implications of the human genetic revolution that can lay the conceptual foundation for a future global policy structure seeking to prevent dangerous future conflict and abuse.

The rate of recent progress in human genetics has been astounding. It was only 61 short years ago that the DNA helix was uncovered and a mere 50 years later, in 2003, when the human genome was fully sequenced. The cost of sequencing a full human genome was roughly $100 million in 2001 and is under $10,000 today. If even a fraction of this rate of decrease is maintained, as is highly likely, the cost will approach negligibility in under a decade, ushering in a new era of personalized medicine where many treatments will be customized based on each person’s genetic predisposition. Processes like these will only widen and deepen in the future, just at an exponentially accelerated pace.

It is already possible, although not legal

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