A Different Sort Of Sharing
August 31, 2012 § 1 Comment
Transformation is the process by which competent bacteria take up foreign plasmid DNA from their surroundings and incorporate it into their own genome. If, sometime in the near future, it were possible to alter the human genomic structure or develop vectors to allow such a process to occur, the implications would be enormous. Not only could physical diseases and handicaps be eradicated, but psychological illnesses could also potentially be wiped out. Physical diseases such as cancer, which has its origins in DNA mutations, could be prevented if the body took up non-cancerous DNA from the “environment” (i.e., a lab, possibly) and replaced the cancerous cells’ DNA with the new non-cancerous DNA. The obesity problem could also be solved if genetic makeup played a very large role in one’s weight problem. Psychological illnesses such as depression could become less prevalent. For example, if someone were depressed because he or she felt that everyone was so much better-looking, he or she could simply “take up” the DNA that codes for specific traits and express those traits. That person would then feel more confident, and voila! Problem solved.
However, there could also be many negative implications, which is exactly why a book written about this subject would be so interesting. A major problem with this would be if everybody found the same traits attractive, and as a result, had very similar DNA. Then, a mysterious disease could sweep through and take the lives of almost everyone on the planet because of their near-identical DNA. The world would become a barren wasteland populated by few roaming peoples who would eventually rebuild civilization as they knew it. More traits could come into the gene pool through mutation over time, and then history would repeat itself.
Because gene therapy is such a rapidly expanding field, it is plausible that scientists could soon find a way to incorporate human traits into vectors in order to transfer them between humans. After all, this seems like such a small step away from inserting healthy DNA into viruses to cure diseases like cystic fibrosis. A major theme of science fiction is the relationship between human innovation and human folly; messing with people’s DNA and “playing God,” if you will, seems both innovative and foolish—a perfect premise for a science fiction story.