Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

It's only matter of time before gene-editing becomes commonplace. March of progress can't be stopped. He Jiankui will eventually be vindicated and possibly lauded as visionary and pioneer.



Gene editing humans was not per se the problem. The huge issue was that it's not obvious that this gene would in fact not cause other issues to these people, and the fact that it was done at a later stage in fetal development, causing possibly some of the cells not having the same genetic code as the rest. This is reckless and stupid, apart from the whole experimenting on humans thing.

Someone who jumped off a cliff while trying to build an airplane, was not lauded as a visionary, but as a splat on the ground.


Why is it stupid or reckless?

In fact, this is a good way to mitigate risk. Most genes in mosaicism, even if parts of the mosaic is faulty, continue to function or partially function.

Would you rather risk complete failure? (Potentially killing the fetus or embryo.)

Also, someone has to take those (potentially reduced) risks if germ line modifications are needed.


As we are now living in a "reality show" world, maybe. But if such decision is based on scientific, ethical, and clinical rational, that is very unlikely. The details of his work were sloppy and unethical including, (not exhaustive): He generated mutations in CCR5 that are uncharacterized. That is he didn't even use the 'delta 32' mutation observed in the gene pool). Beyond that, there is not solid rational that the kids are at risk for HIV transmission sufficiently to justify any procedure, let alone an unconsented, germ-line genetic modification. The physicians that ran the Tuskegee Studies thought they would be lauded. That hasn't happened and won't.


You're confusing a work of one scientist and the whole field. Gene edited babies are inevitable, as soon as we start seeing massive benefits (lack of genetic disease, increases IQ, increased speed, increased muscle mass, improved cardiovascular and immune systems).

Parents already spend ridiculous money for the tiniest benefits for their kids. Genetic editing will be huge.


I saw the parent's comment more countering the grandparent's assertion that He Jiankui will be lauded. He will not.

He may go down in history, but he will appear in the ethics chapter alongside Dr. Rascher and will not be lauded.


Biology is complicated and there are always unintended consequences even with simple drugs or other procedures. you've listed outcomes, but not how to get there. do we increase muscle mass by overexposing growth hormone? in which exact cells and how do we time it? Do we increase IQ by increasing Nerve growth factor or some synaptic channels? What if the wrong cells are expressing them at the wrong time? We barely understand what many of these factors do on a cell to cell level. chasing the things you list WILL come with toxicities and/or a failure rates. Perhaps in 'patients' whom we will have to look in the eyes and explain why we did what we did. Maybe we will get where you suggest but it won't be a straight road there.


You're asking specifics of how it will be done, and we don't know it yet. It will be done, because we do know these variations do exist.

I don't see how a targeted genetic alteration is any worse than the millions of random ones that you get though regular fertilization.

As for looking in the eyes, well, progress always has victims. If you don't want to do it, then don't do it. Some other parents will.


I think this is fairly shortsighted. While I do think that germline gene modification will probably become routine, He specifically was a serious doofus who shat the bed for this area- he made a collection of poor decisions that would easily have been caught in hindsight, ignored multiple suggestions to improve his plans, ignored multiple suggestions to not proceed, and then managed to make a change that probably didn't achieve what he intended. Getting all those things wrong mean he's not going to be considered a visionary or pioneer.


What prevents us from using traditional selective breeding on humans? Why can't women just go to a sperm bank and buy premium DNA?


I believe the term you're looking for is Eugenics. If you google it for some background, it has been tried before and uh, didn't end out so well.


only thing that actually speaks against it is being associated with [godwin's law]. As far as everyone involved is consenting this shouldn't be an issue.


Trying to make better babies through breeding / genetics feeds right into the white supremacy narrative however. It is a really slippery slope, one I'd rather we not try again.

Will we inevitably have "designer" babies at some point in the future morals / legality be damned? Probably so. Is this a good thing? Not necessarily.

The area I can see it being acceptable is fixing congenital defects or genetic abnormalities. "We've made your fetus 10x less likely to develop vascular disease or we've prevented cyctic fibrosis in your baby" vs "We made super strong soldiers who don't feel pain".


> Trying to make better babies through breeding / genetics feeds right into the white supremacy narrative however. It is a really slippery slope, one I'd rather we not try again.

So.. we'll make them non-white, and sidestep that issue? I mostly kid. Yet, it's a shame that even a fairly tame discussion about selecting sperm based on DNA has to be dragged through the mud with racism and godwin-eugenics.

At some point humanity needs to stop being so anti-racist-racist. I'm not saying I don't understand where you come from, I just long for the day when we can discuss DNA selection without someone bringing up skin color.


It's not just skin color, though. It's height. It's face structure. It's the fact that some Sneeches have stars while others are without thars. It's a natural diversity of _everything_. Yes some aspects of that diversity are devastating congenital issues, but IMO we're not ready — socially or technically — for such power to be safely applied through gene editing.


I agree that we're in over our heads; but your comment makes it sound like I should be concerned with accidentally wiping out square jaw or blond hair people for moral reasons. I am not.

In the same way that I don't care about skin color; I also don't care about features continuing to exist and be diverse.

As mentioned, I recognize that we're in over our heads technically. I respect that if we were to "wipe something out" it very likely could end up a huge negative to humanity, due to unknown genes and etc.

However the discussion largely took a moral twist when racism/etc got brought up, and frankly I just don't care. I'm not one for history; so the moral implication of not having a physical-feature-group of humanity around, be it freckles, blue eyes, brown hair, light skinned, tall people or whatever, is entirely lost on me.

Humanity from my perspective seems far worse off having cared so much about our differences that I see little reason to be morally concerned about their absence. I imagine we would be better off for it, since we clearly fail with diversity now, it's not buying us any favors.

Likewise, with or without diversity, we will still certainly find reasons to hate each other. The conversation will just change. We're good at hate.


> I'm not one for history; so the moral implication of not having a physical-feature-group of humanity around, be it freckles, blue eyes, brown hair, light skinned, tall people or whatever, is entirely lost on me.

It might be worth reconsidering that viewpoint. As you say, we're good at hate. We've been good at it, too.

We've seen that something as simple as preferring male children to female children has dramatic societal consequences. It might be reasonable to decide you want to bias your child against being left-handed — lefties do have higher rates of accidents due to using right-handed tools after all. What might the societal shifts be as a result? Might we effectively loose some diversity of _thought_ and progress in our society at large? How might remaining lefties be perceived?


The bigger question I think is would it increase hate? This is not something easily measured, imo.

But if we're that worried about even something as minor as lefties, should we not release products either? How are people on phones all the time perceived? If I release a tanning product, should I be concerned about how tanning users are perceived? If I engineer kids with longer hair, am I concerned how they are perceived?

I think we run the risk of anything being hate-able, and thus nothing matters in that regard. Or at least, roughly speaking. Any big change has potentially huge and unknown societal consequences. I mean hell, people were freaking out about a McDonalds McNugget sauce a year ago over a TV Show. I'm not sure the worst of humanity is what we need to nix life saving medical procedures over.


This so much is literally my point ^


I'd be curious what your thoughts are on my reply to that point: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20812273


Given the current situation (here in the US at least) where white supremacy is very much on the rise, I feel it is very important to politely discuss, so we don't repeat the past.

Just because I'm a privileged cis white male doesn't mean I think it is easy for everyone else.


It would be interesting to start a eugenics-esque program, but focus on DNA superiority combined within equal races mixed in. Ie, fully embrace "melting pot".

It's of course a silly dream to promote all skin colors equally. While I'd like it, it would immediately cause problems with the people who prioritize skin color over all else.

It's such a tiring state of the world.


> but focus on DNA superiority combined within equal races mixed in

“Superiority” is always subjective; the fact that the phenotype you are maximizing doesn't happen to be the same ideal sought by white supremacists doesn't really make a difference to the ethics of such a eugenics program (the steps you are taking to advance it might be a legitimate differentiator, but the purpose would not.)


Is superiority subjective? We have hundreds of fatal flaws in our genetics. Would someone defend that those are superior? I'm not talking about subjective traits like hair. I'm talking about scientific markers of health, disease, retardation, death.

Not advancing this technology because of how it could be used seems awkward, like not making medicine because it could save bad people. Cutting our nose off to spite our face.


> Is superiority subjective?

Pretty much by definition.

> We have hundreds of fatal flaws in our genetics.

Pretty much by definition, we (living humans) have no necessarily-fatal flaws in our genetics. We may have some that are fatal when they combine in certain ways or in certain circumstances, but the fatal effects in those conditions aren't the only effects they have.


I'm a bit lost. I get that genetics are not typically isolated to "just one bad thing", but I feel like you're dodging the point.

To say that say a trait we only know to be a significant marker to mental retardation isn't inferior, due to moral reasons seems in bad faith.

I am very accepting that technically (as I mentioned in other posts) we are in over our heads, and are likely to make mistakes. Frankly, these are games we don't have the understanding to be playing. However that is not what we're discussing here.

What we're discussing is whether or not we can morally proceed with any type of engineering. As if doing so would without fail become "lets make black people more dumb, because we don't like them" or w/e. This seems poorly thought out to me.

If I view engineering as yet another medical tool, then lets look at the existing medical tools. Could I not make pills that selectively hurt specific groups more than others? Yes. So while the stakes are likely higher with genetic engineering, I'm arguing that I don't think we should, or even can, be making scientific medical decisions based on wishy washy what-ifs and moral gut feelings of right and wrong.

Lets focus on saving lives.


> To say that say a trait we only know to be a significant marker to mental retardation isn't inferior, due to moral reasons seems in bad faith

(1) traits aren't markers: mental retardation is a trait, some Gene may be a marker.

(2) I'm not saying that anything “isn’t inferior, due to moral reasons”. On the other hand, I'm saying that any designation of “inferiority” is (not restricted to genes, but ever, anywhere) a subjective value judgement. And that because of the complexities at play in genetics, people will quite vehemently disagree on judgements about which genes are inferior and should be eradicated, both because they will disagree about which traits should be eradicated and because very often the relationship between traits and genes is complex.

> What we're discussing is whether or not we can morally proceed with any type of engineering.

Sure, that's part of the discussion, and I'm saying, on that question, if it is morally permissible and Nazi eugenics is not, it because you are making tools available that people can choose to use the same way they choose partners potentially for genetic reasons, not imposing their use top-down on society and culling “undesirables.” And not because “the traits we've decided to eliminate are really bad, and those we've decided to promote are really good, unlike the Nazis who made dubious decisions as to the targeting of their eugenics program.”

> As if doing so would without fail become "lets make black people more dumb, because we don't like them"

Are you guaranteeing that all the resulting technology will be freely available to all? Because even if we except that the techniques themselves will be “good” in individual application, that's literally exactly what they should be expected to become except not for the “because we don't like them” reason, but instead for the “because their poor” reason.


> (1) traits aren't markers: mental retardation is a trait, some Gene may be a marker.

Ah, I should be clear I was trying to use vague terms. Any overlap with real terms is coincidence, and not intended. Just for clarification :)

> I'm not saying that anything “isn’t inferior, due to moral reasons”. On the other hand, I'm saying that any designation of “inferiority” is (not restricted to genes, but ever, anywhere) a subjective value judgement. And that because of the complexities at play in genetics, people will quite vehemently disagree on judgements about which genes are inferior and should be eradicated, both because they will disagree about which traits should be eradicated and because very often the relationship between traits and genes is complex.

I agree. Yet, isn't that the case with all medicine? Hell, much of the deaf community wants to stay deaf - should we stop working on hearing impairment to placate one group that likes a thing? This seems like backwards development to me.

> not imposing their use top-down on society and culling “undesirables.”

Oh, I'm not sure where I gave the impression that I wanted to cull society. Nothing I said was intended to be forced. Well, beyond the obvious forcing in that the baby has no say in the matter lol.

I wouldn't advocate for culling in the same way I'm not advocating we forcibly implant deaf people with hearing implants. In my view, that's not a reasonable discussion. You can argue against it if you like, but I'm not the counterpart for that argument haha :)

> Are you guaranteeing that all the resulting technology will be freely available to all?

Nope, definitely not. In the same way medicine is hugely corrupt and not available to all, currently. However just because there are society based problems in distribution of advancement is not an argument to avoid advancement, imo.

If so, we should throw modern medical science out the window. Millions, hell billions of people are unable to get even "old" treatment, let alone modern or bleeding edge treatment. I don't believe that invalidates the usefulness of said advancements, though. It's just a different problem entirely.


Confused. This happens all the time. Sperm banks. They don't hand out random stuff. There's a rigorous screening and selection process.


I'm not at all convinced that sperm banks have procedures that are in any sense "rigorous." For example, there's a Dutch man who fathered 200 children through a sperm bank.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/24/sperm-donor-...


Well, they purported to be. Questionaires to select donors; catalogs for the recipients to peruse and choose.

In many banks other than the strawman provided, it meant that 'eugenics' was alive and well most places.


Not really a strawman. In reality, sperm banks are not regulated closely at all. Most of the laws have to do with parental rights, not "quality control." Even self-regulation is just that and nothing more.

The idea that people choosing donors from a catalog amounts to eugenics assumes that the people choosing the donor (in the case of anonymous donors, which is only a portion of all artificially inseminated children) have some rigor in choosing; i.e., that marketing doesn't influence them somehow. Most of the supposed rigorous screening is nothing more than checking boxes for physical characteristics such as height and eye color, education level attained, and family history of certain diseases.

There have been quite a few sperm bank scandals, including one where the proprietor of the sperm bank used his own seed even though he told his cutomers they were selecting someone else's from a catalog. The Dutch case is notable because it violates one of the recommendations (no law in the U.S.) that limit a donor to 25 births per 800,000 population. [0] But it is certainly not the only case.

[0] "The closest thing to a regulatory body overseeing sperm donation throughout the U.S. is a nonprofit called the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. The ASRM has a set of recommendations that physicians, fertility specialists, and sperm banks are encouraged to follow."

"The ASRM also recommends setting a limit of 25 births per donor within a population of 800,000, in order to lower the risk of accidental incestuous relations. In many other countries, there are laws putting caps on the number of births per single donor within populations of a certain size, but the U.S. doesn’t have any such law."

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/07/sperm-don...


> What prevents us from using traditional selective breeding on humans?

Much human breeding is traditional selective breeding (whether using sperm/egg donors or more ancient methods, pairings are often selected based in part on the expected genetically-determined qualities of any offspring), but it's just not a program maintained over many generations with consistent selection criteria, outside of conspiracy theories and science fiction (e.g., Heinlein’s Howard Families.)

Shorter term (usually not by intent) eugenics programs have been tried, and they are usually moral disasters tied to movements that are rapidly (sometimes violently) rejected, or at least the eugenics portion of the program is abandoned before long.


>Why can't women just go to a sperm bank and buy premium DNA?

They can. High end sperm banks that do thorough background checks and create profiles on donors already exist.


What is a premium DNA?


Presumably sperm from a donor that had desirable traits.


[flagged]


>What prevents us from using traditional selective breeding on humans?

It's happening, just that we do not acknowledge it. People are always selecting for the traits they see as favourable either consciously or subconsciously. Women do not date me because I look scary (as terrorist as some woman put succinctly) it means they are selecting for man who look less scary. Some women also told me that I do not respect women, so they are selecting for men who respect women. I am cool with that because I also select for a woman who is comfortable with me without I changing myself completely.


It goes the other way in countries where matches are based on sexual attraction. Families decay when bright, successful men choose women for their beauty.

In societies where matchmaking is done by parents or by recognized matchmakers, the outcome is likely much better in terms of creating and maintaining high achieving strains.


Men select for youth, fertility, beauty and agreability.

Even in countries where there is arranged marriage, successful men are matched up with more beautiful women (but within equal cast and somewhat equal socio-economic status)

>Families decay when bright, successful men choose women for their beauty.

I don't follow how family decays when beauty is selected. Women can be beautiful and successful at the same time.

>In societies where matchmaking is done by parents or by recognized matchmakers, the outcome is likely much better in terms of creating and maintaining high achieving strains.

It might lead to a stable family on average but it doesn't mean people in such setting are happy.

What I've observed is that countries were arranged marriage is common, women when they are young have lovers in college but they flush down their social media, dress more conservative when time for arrange marriage come, often they also take up a job for short duration to signal independence/education.

In west, where there is more freedom. Young women date handsome men but if such relationship doesn't last long, their priorities change and they look for financially stable average looking men, though if they are lucky they might also get handsome and financially well off man.

It's quite rare for a woman to marry a man who doesn't make as much money as her if not more.


Yes, but isn't it scary that at some point you can't stop that? I mean, all of the research is taken place 'somewhere out there' in the world and all we get is just a few articles that say it all was a super secret operation and no-one wants to speak about it openly. I have nothing against progress but will it still be one when it bursts and can't be controlled?


I look at it as a huge pile of obfuscated code. So yes, it's all there...




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: