Within 25 years the ability to enhance human capabilities will come within reach, letting us augment sensory capacities and enabling us to thrive in space. That could pose complex biosecurity challenges and raise profound questions about what it means to be human. Given the immense costs of today's experimental gene therapies, work needs to be done to ensure their benefits are shared equitably.
- What are the opportunities and risks posed by our growing mastery over human genetics?
- Where does the line between healing and augmentation lie and who decides what is allowed?
- Genetic capabilities will appear gradually and surreptitiously. How do we ensure their benefits are shared equitably?
“The new Crispr gene-editing tool opened new and questionable frontier uses, showing how science and technology often outpaces our ability to understand their applications.
“There are differing opinions about when and if a technology (such as gene-editing tools) is ready to be integrated with the public and how that process should be carried out, also in terms of communication.
“It may be irrelevant to distinguish between a disease treatment and an enhancement, because if one thinks in terms of well-being, the boundaries are blurry. The questions of safety and precision of the interventions are key.
“There are differing stages all over the globe in terms of governance and oversight, and different starting points for what we think is acceptable. We should be talking about preparedness for genome and emerging technologies in terms of governance.
“The genomes of more than one million individuals have been sequenced but less than 2 per cent are from Africa or recent African descent, raising questions of inclusion and equity. Moreover, the lack of African genetic material might impede our full understanding of basic functions.
“We did not wait for full understanding of all the genes or virology or immunology before vaccinating for smallpox. Similarly, some of the technical hurdles in gene-editing technology lie in the fact that it's impossible to wait as long as necessary to really know if something will be safe for a person's lifetime. Occasionally we can reach consensus without full understanding.