Construction of Omnipotent Beings: How Far Are We?

Modern science has a vision of strange future promise, in which any organ or tissue, from breasts to brains, hearts and eyes, can be grown from genetic scratch, and used for reasons that go beyond simple medicine, such as everlasting beauty and superhuman strength. The trends of stem cell technologies for beauty, power and resilience, point to a innovative era of human enhancement, not by integration with computers, but by exploitation of the genome’s eternally replicating power. They herald the age of stem cell superheroes, but also monsters and freaks. Moreover the medical ethics is still not well-equipped to contain, which promotes the rise of these “luxury” applications of this radical technology, the stem cell science, which is already pasteurised in popular imagination.

In last century’s nuclear age, fairy-tale mutations were created by radiation, in a play on newly discovered genetic nature, like ‘Godzilla’ or ‘Spiderman’ or the three-breasted prostitute in the film ‘Total Recall’.

Now, all the promise and peril of human nature is wrapped up in stem cells: the mysterious precursor of every kind of cells in human body, which can grow, with proper instruction, into any new tissue or organ. Doctors have already successfully used stem cells to grow a new trachea for a sick child and bits of livers and brains and other tissues in the lab.

Application of stem cell technology is abundant in every aspects of life, which ranges from production of blood from stem cells on battlefield to enhancement to full replacement of body parts in cosmetic application. “Stem cell doping” for faster recovery or increasing muscle strength, which could be used in Olympics are not far behind. One recent study with stem cells showed a huge increase in muscle-mass for laboratory rats without any extra exercise.

According to Peter Zandstra, professor of the University of Toronto, the model superhero of the modern era is ‘Wolverine’, who recovers almost immediately from injury: a genetic action figure with eternal youth, endless potential of regenerating and repairing his body. This is not at all theoretically impossible, though tricky. Therefore this technology is promising, despite the fact that it is associated with danger, and enormous ethical and legal issues. However researchers could do their work behind closed lab doors, leaving the moral questions to priests, police and politicians. Faced with the promise of this innovative technology, people do not only pursue the good, as McGill genetic ethicist, Prof. Bartha Knoppers describes. They also reach, whether tragically or heroically, for the super.

 

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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