March 17, 2013
Geoffrey Miller: China Up For Offspring Genetic Engineering

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller comments when offspring genetic engineering becomes possible the Chinese are going to embrace it with alacrity.

We have ideological biases that say, “Well, this could be troubling, we shouldn’t be meddling with nature, we shouldn’t be meddling with God.” I just attended a debate in New York a few weeks ago about whether or not we should outlaw genetic engineering in babies and the audience was pretty split. In China, 95 percent of an audience would say, “Obviously you should make babies genetically healthier, happier, and brighter!” There’s a big cultural difference.

Western countries have been ascendant for centuries. China is going to give the West its first real competition in a really long time. I think this is very healthy and constructive. The Westerners had better get ready to improve genome quality or get left in the dust.

One way to make better babies: get rid of the very low frequency mutations. The vast majority are harmful or neutral in effect. The many harmful mutations we all carry are known as genetic load. Cut down the genetic load and the result will be super babies. One of the benefits of cheap full genome sequencing is going to be the identification of these many lower frequency mutations. Better we do this to humans first before someone tries to use many Neanderthal genomes to basically vote on which genetic variants to keep in order to create a Neanderthal baby. Greg Cochran asks his readers what the problem is in doing this. The likely result of such an exercise: super Neanderthal. If a large number of Neanderthal genomes can be discovered and sequenced then that'll enable more reduction of genetic load.

Those of us already born by reducing genetic load from many parts of our bodies. First we need the ability to grow replacement organs. We then need (and will soon have) massive amounts of full genome sequencing information to identify the harmful genetic mutations. Next, we need gene therapy that can fix pieces of our DNA in cells removed from our body and grown in culture. Basically, replace the harmful genetic letters and make cell lines immunologically compatible but superior. Then use one or more of these cell lines as starting points to grow replacement organs. Then we'll be able to replace our body parts with new parts that are both younger and higher functioning.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 March 17 08:55 PM 

Bluegrass said at March 18, 2013 8:16 AM:

I think it's great that the Chinese are more open to genetic engineering. If the US or Europe are stubborn or inflexible about the potential for the technology to improve human welfare and human potential, then they deserve to fall behind. Moreover, if the Chinese are less risk averse than the West, then they will share some of the burden of discovering the potential and pitfalls of the technology. Finally, if China is to become the preeminent civilization, I'd like the average Chinese citizen to receive some small tune-ups that would be becoming of a superior race. Otherwise, I wish them the best and hope they can increase the advance of civilization by a factor of 2.

bbartlog said at March 18, 2013 1:57 PM:

In theory, reducing the genetic load to near zero should result in some sort of superhuman. But... that really is only theory, and relies on certain ideas about what effects genetic load has and what adaptations we currently have to compensate for it. I would lay even odds that reducing the genetic load to near zero via the simple statistical means that are generally described will result in a non-viable fetus. After all, fish adapted to the crushing pressure of the depths don't fare well when this seemingly destructive force is removed.

DoJ said at March 18, 2013 5:57 PM:

I would lay even odds that reducing the genetic load to near zero via the simple statistical means that are generally described will result in a non-viable fetus. After all, fish adapted to the crushing pressure of the depths don't fare well when this seemingly destructive force is removed.

Exactly. This is something that must be experimentally determined, with nonhuman species first.

Randall Parker said at March 18, 2013 8:02 PM:


Nonhuman species first: Yes, great idea. We should do this to Australian Shepherds first. Great dogs that can be made even greater. Or Border Collies. Imagine how smart both breeds could be without any genetic load.

Tagusian said at March 19, 2013 8:06 PM:

Yes, let's start with Apes!

Fly said at March 21, 2013 2:59 PM:

Ste Hsu discusses the BGI research project in this lecture:

Hsu presents a simple additive genetic model with 10,000 loci that have a minor impact on g. Each loci is assumed to have a beneficial common allele and a modestly harmful infrequent allele (frequency 0.1) A person with an IQ of 100 would have about 1000 harmful alleles. IQ 115 would have 970 and IQ 85 would have 1030. "Repairing" 200 of the 1000 "defects" would give an IQ over 200.

Experimenting with apes might produce super intelligent gorillas bent on world domination. ("Pinky and the Brain".)

Ronald Brak said at March 23, 2013 8:36 AM:

No wonder malaria is hard to beat. We have four times as many genes as it does and so we must have four times its genetic load. Every malarial parasite must be a super parasite compared to us! While grapes have about 8,000 more genes than we have. That seems about right. I think I could beat a grape in a fight. But my friend Zod says that since genetic load is the chance of an organism dying before it reproduces due to not haveing the optimal genes, wouldn't someone with low genetic load, rather than being superhuman, be more likely to be someone who is horny and too scatterbrained to remember to use contraceptive?

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