When a Chinese scientist known as JK genetically modified two children recently, the outrage was expressed (temporarily). The "scientists" realized the ethics of all this, but I suspect that everything is a scam. They were not bothered by what It was done, but whenThat is, before the public had been sufficiently anesthetized.
The Chinese government reacted to the (transient) outrage of the world by arresting JK, claiming he was a dishonest actor. Are you kidding me? China is the most technologically sophisticated tyranny the world has ever seen. Nothing so important happens there without someone in high places knowing it.
Now, Chinese scientists have genetically modified a macaque monkey to make it more human. From the MIT Technology Review:
"This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model," says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.
According to their findings, modified monkeys did better on a memory test with colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop, as do human children. There was no difference in the size of the brain.
Puff up. A few years ago we were promised experiments that would affect the brain would never be in mice. They were right. It was made in monkeys!
"The ethics of outsourcing"
My friend the bioethicist William Hurlbut has often been concerned with the "ethic of subcontracting", that is, Western scientists and funders cooperate with experiments in countries with an "anything goes" approach, allowing them to participate in investigations considered unethical in their own countries while they remain in Good smell among their companions.
China sure fits that bill! For example, scientists there took monkeys cloned to birth recently, which means that human reproductive cloning could be on the horizon.
Do not worry: scientists are alarmed!
Several Western scientists, including one who collaborated in the effort, considered the experiments imprudent and said they questioned the ethics of genetically modified primates, an area where China has taken technological advantage.
"The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes related to the evolution of the brain is a very risky path," says James Sikela, a geneticist who conducts comparative studies among primates at the University of Colorado. He is concerned that the experiment shows indifference towards animals and that soon lead to more extreme modifications. "It's a clbadic problem with a slippery slope and one that we can expect to repeat as this type of research is done," he says.
So, stop cooperating with the Chinese biotechnology sector!
Opening the Pandora's Box
We are almost out of time to prevent Pandora from opening its box:
- We need to create binding international ethics protocols to govern biotechnology.
- We need laws that exhaust the expectation of profit by denying patents and other intellectual property protections for products or procedures that arise from unethical experiments.
- We need the Western scientific center to stop cooperating with anything that is done with biotechnological experiments in China and elsewhere.
- We need some international leadership to put this crucial issue in the foreground.
Oh, stop beating your wings, Wesley. As Mark Twain would say if he were still among us, everyone talks about biotechnology, but nobody wants to do anything about it.
Photo: A macaque monkey, thoughtful, by Kyla Marino, through Flickr (cropped).
Crusade in The Corner.