Why are there no super people

Pronounced ... posthuman Watch out, the super people are coming!

Healthier, smarter, stronger, live longer and even have magic powers - who wouldn't want that? Starting with Thetis, who dipped her son Achilles in the river Styx to make him invulnerable, to the Chinese king of the apes, who, according to legend, stole peaches from the orchard of the heavenly emperor in order to become immortal: the desire to become a superhuman being to become is a recurring motif that runs through all the mythologies of the world. With the help of genetic research, humans are getting closer and closer to this long-cherished dream. The past has shown that quick action is needed to regulate the increasingly unscrupulous approach in this area.

A long-cherished dream is within reach

Altering a person's genome so that the alteration is inheritable is known as research on the human germline; In other words: The genes are changed within the germ cells or the reproductive cells, i.e. egg or sperm cells. The currently used technique CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) has already proven to be helpful in the genetic treatment of diseases. However, using this method for reproductive purposes is very risky, as we still know relatively little about how individual genes interact with other genes over time and what effects such a change has on a baby's development.

Risky research

Although international science agrees not to intervene in human genetic material, there is little opposition to such a practice. Japan, for example, only issued guidelines last September that theoretically restrict that human embryos may be manipulated. However, these regulations are not legally binding, and so are many other countries, including the United States and China.

China creates a fait accompli

It became clear last November how urgent a discussion about genetically modified humans is. At that time, the Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced that he had interfered with the genome of a pair of twins in order to protect them from an HIV virus that is present in the baby's father. This is the first case in human history where the genetic makeup of human infants has been altered. To make the twins immune to the HIV virus, He eliminated a gene called CCR5. This gene not only makes mice smarter, it also helps the human brain to recover from a stroke and is apparently also necessary for a successful school career.

Pandora's box is open

The horror in the entire world of science was great, including in China. He is no longer allowed to conduct research and has withdrawn from the public. However, his work opened Pandora's box. What punishment would He get if the twins got a unique incurable disease due to their genetic make-up?

And what about the college of academics that supported He's work by keeping quiet about their machinations from the start? What if he is a role model for his colleagues and they are now following in the footsteps of “Dr. Frankenstein ”want to step in order to create more superhuman beings? And how would these beings created by you affect the human gene pool?

Due to the vague legal situation in this area, we can hardly give any answers at the moment, although these are urgently needed. Governments around the world must put more sophisticated and stricter laws in place to stop such unscrupulous experimentation and not endanger the future of the human species. The point is not to rebel against innovations out of vague fears, but to prevent human lives from being viewed as necessary sacrifices. In short, we must protect humanity from the arrival of superhumans.


"Pronounced ..."

In our column series “Pronounced…”, Liwen Qin, Maximilian Buddenbohm, Dominic Otiang’a and Gerasimos Bekas write alternately each week. In “Outspoken… posthuman”, Liwen Qin observes technical progress and how it affects our lives and our society: in the car, in the office and at the supermarket checkout.