New human species
Will we live alongside other human species in our lifetimes? Juan Enríquez (3.2) was the founding director of the Life Sciences Project at Harvard Business School and a fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs. The universe started approximately 13 billion years ago. The earth became a planet approximately 4 billion years ago. Humans appear approximately 99.96% of the time into this story.
Some people think that humans are the pinnacle of this story but they have no basis for that view. there is no reason to believe it is true and I cannot think of any reason why we would want it to be true. It seems infinitely more likely that what has been happening will continue to happen. This means that humans will not remain as they are forever. Enríquez reminds us that they have already been 29 versions (and counting) of humans so far. He also reminds us that there is also no reason to believe that there should only be one single human species because we have evidence indicating that we did in fact coexist with at least eight other versions of humans in our history.
He suggests the question, how big does a mutation have to be in order to create a different species of human? Svante Paabo tells us that the difference between humans and Neanderthals is approximately 0.004% of the gene code. He says that the difference between Neanderthals and humans only consisted of different sperm and testes, different smell and different skin.
As the mapping and analysis of the human genome continues we are discovering important genetic differences between humans. For example, Enríquez says that everybody that has climbed to an 8000 meter mountain summit without oxygen has the ACE gene. In a talk he gave prior to the London Olympics he characterized this ethical situation in the form of three possible options for the London Olympics? The first option was, do we want the Olympics to be a competition among hard-working mutants? The second option was to give the people that had the mutant gene a head start over the people that didn’t have it. The third option is that people that don’t have the gene were just unlucky and therefore should be given the opportunity to “upgrade” and get the gene. In the meantime there were 10.2 million procedures in the United States in 2008 that involved “aesthetic plastic surgeons”. This tells us that there is an enormous current demand for very conventional corrections, deletions, augmentations so it is easy to predict that demand for much more sophisticated and potentially more impactful corrections, such as altering genes, will be high.
He cites an experiment in 2009 in China (cell stem cell, Dr. Shaorong et al) with the experimenters took skin cells from a mouse, added for chemicals, turned the skin cells into stem cells then let the stem cells grow and thereby creating a complete copy of the original mouse. The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that is potentially possible to grow a copy of any animal out of any one of its cells. Since this experiment scientists have transformed human skin cells into mature liver cells. Therefore, in theory, it is possible to grow any organ from any one of your cells.
MIT professor, Ed Boyden, was able to place retroviruses into the brain cells of mice and tag them with proteins that light up when they are used and thereby have the ability to map the exact path ways that occur when the mouse sees, feels, hears, remembers, loves anything. Then it became possible to use a fiber-optic cable to trigger the same path ways and presumably trigger memories of those experiences (or something similar). The images are collectible in two colors which can be transformed into binary code (ones and zeros) and downloaded onto a computer. Therefore, it appears that one day we will be able to download our memories (or whatever this information actually contains). Of course, if we can download our memories we can do the reverse and upload our memories (which may be helpful if we lost them) or, if we want to change things up a little, perhaps we can upload somebody else’s memories or even totally new memories that we bought from an app store.
Is this process of altering genes to create different humans the latest phase of evolution or is it something totally different that is beyond evolution and in need of a new name?
Next article in this series: “The Internet”