Read a Harvard geneticist's plan for redesigning humans
Professor George Church creates a gene "wishlist" that can lead to superhuman abilities.
- Harvard geneticist George Church makes a list of genes that could be modified to enhance human abilities.
- The list tracks both positive and negative effects.
- Redesigning humans can lead to posthumans or transhumans.
Would you improve humanity if you could? Many of us have opinions about how we can boost up society and government. But what about just re-engineering the people themselves, to make them more advanced physically and intellectually? Would better bodies lead to better people? One person who can turn such musings into reality is George Church, the Harvard genetics professor famous for trying to resurrect woolly mammoths, among many other accomplishments. Church also made a list of genes that could be targeted through genetic manipulation for the purpose of designing a new version of humans.
In an interview with Futurism, the professor explained that one purpose of assembling such a list is in giving correct information to the people. It has been his long-term mission to drive down the costs of genetics resources. To that end, the list includes both protective and negative consequences of hacking a particular gene.
"I felt that both ends of the phenotype spectrum should be useful," Church elaborated. "And the protective end might yield more powerful medicines useful for more people and hence less expensive."
Here are some selections from the so-called Transhumanist Wishlist, drawing upon the philosophical movement of transhumanism that calls for using technology to enhance human physiology and intellect, leading to a transformation of what it means to be human:
- LRP5 - hacking this gene could give people extra-strong bones, as research has shown a mutation of LRP5 can lead to bones that don't break. The tweak might make it hard to swim, however, as denser bones also mean lower buoyancy.
- MSTN - messing with the myostatin protein could result in larger, leaner muscles, and cure such diseases as muscular dystrophy.
- FAAH-OUT - the amusingly named FAAH-OUT gene mutation was linked to insensitivity to pain. Wouldn't you like to have such a super ability?
- ABCC11 - modifying this gene could really pay off socially, as it's been linked to low odor production. Currently, only 2% of the people in the world carry the mutated version, which helps their armpits not produce any unpleasant smells.
- PCSK9 - people who lack this gene have very low levels of cholesterol. Tweaking it could lead to fighting off coronary disease. On the other hand, the negatives could include a rise in diabetes and even reduced cognition.
- GRIN2B - playing with this gene can lead to enhancing memory and learning abilities.
- BDKRB2 - figuring out how to affect this gene can lead to people who can hold their breath under water for much longer. It figures prominently in the abilities of the indigenous Bajau people ("Sea Nomads") of Southeast Asia, who are known for amazing feats of deep diving.
George Church, a professor of Genetics at Harvard University, with the MAGE Device Multiplex automated Genome Engineering on November 30, 2012.
Photo by Rick Friedman/rickfriedman.com/Corbis via Getty Images
"I've made the argument that we're already transhumanist, that is to say, if it's defined as being almost unrecognizable to our ancestors," said Church in a radio interview. "I think if you brought some of our ancestors or even people from un-industrialized tribes they would not understand what we're doing."
You can check out the full transhumanist "wish list" here, along with additional resources that include studies of specific genes and their effects. While some of these hacks are already being attempted, more discussion and development is necessary. Church sees that future doctors would be able to receive transplants with hacked genetic modifications.
How long till that future? Scientists around the world are racing to make genetic advancements, generally before their governments catch up. Gene-edited human babies are already being born. Chinese scientists were able to edit the gene CCR5 to make two baby girls more resistant to HIV. On the flip side, they made the girls more susceptible to the West Nile Virus. Finding the right balance will be crucial if we're to become superhuman.
To hear Church discuss the future of human biology, check out this video:
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
One reason to suspect you have COVID-19 may be the order in which the symptoms appear.
- USC researchers identify a distinct order in which COVID-19 symptoms present themselves.
- SARS-CoV-2 affects the digestive tract in a way that distinguishes it from other similar infections.
- If you experience these symptoms in this order, call your doctor.
The symptoms in order<p>The USC team says that coronavirus' symptoms present in this order:</p><ol><li>fever</li><li>cough and muscle pain</li><li>nausea and/or vomiting</li><li>diarrhea</li></ol><p>What really sets apart COVID-19 from other diseases is the timing of the nausea/vomiting and diarrhea. While the respiratory symptoms are similar to those associated with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the gastrointestinal sequence of COVID-19 is distinctive. COVID-19 attacks the upper GI tract first, causing nausea/vomiting before moving down to the lower GI tract, producing diarrhea. This is the opposite of the way in which these symptoms appear with MERS and SARS.</p><p>"This order is especially important to know when we have overlapping cycles of illnesses like the flu that coincide with infections of COVID-19, says study co-author Peter Kuhn. "Doctors can determine what steps to take to care for the patient, and they may prevent the patient's condition from worsening."</p><p>The study calls for further investigation into the presenting symptoms of COVID-19, since unanswered questions remain. Might the order of symptoms vary with outlier strains of SARS-CoV-2? Do other risk factors such as obesity, or environmental factors such as temperature affect their order?</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU3MzgyOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzU4MTYzOH0.OB7tF_mF_grw-81Mq1ETBzOP6UWJMtpqwm30MjDf-c8/img.jpg?width=980" id="af33e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c94a7be3f9f5659b1de411db2429bea" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="man grimacing from illness" />
Image source: fizkes/Shutterstock
Clue in the data<p>The core data set used by the USC team were case histories of 55,000 people who contracted COVID-19 in China. The data was collected by the World Health Organization from February 16-24, 2020. Their analysis was supplemented by data from almost 1,100 additional cases documented by the China Medical Treatment Expert Group via the National Health Commission of China — these came from December 11, 2019 to January 29, 2020.</p><p>To assess the similarity of COVID-19's symptom ordering to the flu, the researchers looked at the data from 2,470 North American, European, and Southern Hemisphere flu cases from 1994 to 1998.</p>
Early diagnosis<p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"The importance of knowing first symptoms is rooted in the need to stop the spread of COVID-19, a disease that is two to three times more transmissible than influenza and results in outbreaks of clusters.' — Larsen, et al</em></p><p>Lead study author Joseph Larsen says that in addition to slowing transmission, an understanding of COVID-19's progression could also facilitate more effective treatment. </p><p>"The order of the symptoms matter. Knowing that each illness progresses differently means that doctors can identify sooner whether someone likely has COVID-19, or another illness, which can help them make better treatment decisions," says Larsen, who adds, "Given that there are now better approaches to treatments for COVID-19, identifying patients earlier could reduce hospitalization time."</p>
Amid such suffering, people need some joy.
The year 2020 hasn't been one to remember – in fact, for a lot of people it has been an outright nightmare. The pandemic, along with political turmoil and social unrest, has brought anxiety, heartbreak, righteous anger and discord to many.
Can we stop a rogue AI by teaching it ethics? That might be easier said than done.
- One way we might prevent AI from going rogue is by teaching our machines ethics so they don't cause problems.
- The questions of what we should, or even can, teach computers remains unknown.
- How we pick the values artificial intelligence follows might be the most important thing.