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The New York Times gets a bit speculative:
Genetically modified GloFish, developed by injecting genes from sea coral into zebrafish eggs, will go on sale Jan. 5 in this country, according to Yorktown Technologies LP in Texas. The GloFish are red in regular light and glow fluorescent red under ultraviolet light. Similar fish, but with different genes for luminescence have been sold for several months in Taiwan.

This is the tipping point, when the world irrevocably turns toward the science-fiction fantasies of writers like Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, who envision biomedical technology permeating every corner of the marketplace, from global corporations on down to small-time illegal operations like stolen-car chop shops.

Interestingly, as the article goes on the writer focuses mostly on possible somatic modifications - changes that won't be passed on to anyone's children. Things like glowing skin, replacement hair (or no hair at all), enhanced athletic performance, or the wings from 'New Light On The Drake Equation'...
"I think there's a distinction between what you do to yourself and what you do to the larger environment," Dr. Silver said. Society looks askance at any attempt to change human evolution or tweak human nature in a way that will be passed on to posterity. But if you could engineer only yourself, there would be few limits.

These things won't happen tomorrow, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a thrill out of seeing them move another step closer. As hard as I try, I can't see the human form as something sacrosanct; I can see that the technology has risks, and I'm sure there will be more than one terrible accident where procedures are performed with insufficient knowledge or technology, but fundamentally I find the possibilities exciting. I want the development of this technology to be steady and sober - although it probably won't be - but I definitely want to see it developed. And fashion statements are just the beginning; I sincerely doubt that germline modifications can be held off for more than a generation or two, and that's when the real fun starts.

Of course, it won't be exciting when it gets here. The future never is. The future isn't personalised transportatation systems and instantaneous global communication networks, it's traffic jams and livejournal memes. The future, when it happens, is mundane. But until it happens, I can live with the dreams.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The terrible accident which worries me is the one where it turns out not to be somatic after all...
Well, accidents happen. But if we've got the technology to target specific tissues now (and we do - first anticancer gene therapy licensed this week), then I've got to think the chances of that sort of accident are fairly low. Added to which, if we've got the technology to put things in, we've got the technology to pull things out again. In 10 or 20 years, I'd be surprised if we didn't know and couldn't control exactly what we're passing on to our children.
But if we've got the technology to target specific tissues now (and we do - first anticancer gene therapy licensed this week), then I've got to think the chances of that sort of accident are fairly low.


It's leaky. The technology is more like biasing the delivery towards certain tissues than ensuring that others aren't hit; anything which involves putting DNA in people has the potential to deliver to any cell type purely by chance.

Added to which, if we've got the technology to put things in, we've got the technology to pull things out again.


Er, no. I'm thinking pretty hard, but the only 'pull things out again' technologies i can come up with are homologous recombination (which is fantastically inefficient) and RNAi (which is the sawn-off shotgun of molecular techniques). Perhaps you could express an scFv which would inhibit the gene you'd put in or something, but now we're really in million-to-one-shot territory. Unless you've got a targetable homing endonuclease up your sleeve?

If you're interested in this stuff, though, and would like to understand it more-or-less properly, you might consider going and doing a degree in biochemistry or something.

HTH. HAND.

-- Tom
anything which involves putting DNA in people has the potential to deliver to any cell type purely by chance.

That's true, but it's sufficiently non-leaky that they've started licensing this sort of thing for therapeutic use, and I've got to think that we're only going to get better at targeting as time goes on.

homologous recombination (which is fantastically inefficient)

That's what I was primarily thinking of, because it doesn't have to be efficient - you only have to sort out one gamete to ensure the next generation is baseline human again. I didn't say we had good technology to do it now, I just said we could do it now.

I suppose you could also just silence the genes you want, or have some kind of 'global off' system; make sure any gene you insert carries the same kind of marker, then if you want to switch things off you also insert an RNase targeted only to that marker. But those are adding complexity where it's probably a good idea to stay as simple as possible.
This level of biotechnology reflects a whole new order of control, influence, and change on our ecosystem for our own species' purposes.

Now, it's one thing where there is a real utilitarian value in it - feeding people, growing replacement tissue, speeding a symbiotic relationship solution with various diseases ... quite another for fashion.*

I think this case (caulerpa taxifolia) should be a loud warning of our immaturity concerning the use of these technologies.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2000/killeralgae.shtml

*In my line of work, it is interesting to note just how serious a generator of hazardous wastes art programs are. I appreciate the arts, but that cannot divorce itself from its real ecological impacts.

I'll readily admit I'm sounding like a complete Luddite and conservative on this matter ... I figure that if we can't do it right (careful plodding), then we damn well better constrain market forces (brutally, if necessary) until we can.

----

Now, to the case of this particular fish - yes, it's pretty, and mostly harmless. Moreover, if it does get out into the wild, it'll probably be outcompeted fairly quickly...assuming of course, it doesn't adapt as rapidly.

Case by case basis perhaps? It's all speeding up beyond that practicable point I fear.
This level of biotechnology reflects a whole new order of control, influence, and change on our ecosystem for our own species' purposes.

Well, it could. But here I'm talking about modifying us, not our ecosystem. It's hard to see what the negative environmental impacts of glowing tattoos are going to be...
Well, for starters - the division between us and the environment isn't so distinct as we'd like to think.

One interesting link to consider, is the lifestyle choice of birth control pills ... and the infusion of female hormones in our waterways as a result. Still under study, mind - and difficult to assess ... but another warning.

Hell, shedding 'glowing' skin could produce it's own particular biohazard to people who don't clean up their houses often. Worth studying first, neh.
Dude, you're sending me a daily photo comic from your phone. Whilst I'm in another country. The future is fantastically exciting.
OK, yeah, that part's pretty cool. :)