I saw an eye-catching item among many in a summary of global consumer spending. I don’t recall where I saw it but it stayed in my mind. In the segment on healthcare, a graph illustrated the huge outlays on treating symptoms over the last two decades. The graph also had a prediction for various consumer spending categories for the coming twenty years. It included that the next two decades will see phenomenal growth in DNA editing. Bear in mind this is you, the consumer, spending on DNA editing. It seems that our immune systems will be completely transformed in the near future and we will be happily paying for such DNA treatments. If only I knew an ethicist with whom to share my concerns.
That got me thinking about the plight of the Tasmanian devil.
I found my way to the devil researching about how technology has affected media. Music, books and TV have been completely disrupted by technology companies that don’t need to care about the content nor the welfare of the creatives behind it. These tech companies make money from advertising more than from the content. Indeed, the content, whether a poem, an album or feature film barely makes money at all. The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has invested billions in research over the last 63 years and while we don’t care about mechanical elephant troop carriers or psychic spy programs that failed, these same tech companies that disrupted your entertainment use the DARPA ARPANET evolved internet to do it. And GPS perhaps to deliver it. Yes, the internet is from technology developed for military purposes and is now streaming content to your home. Where’s the ethicist now that I need to talk about this too?
You probably don’t know that world’s largest carnivorous marsupial is the Tasmanian devil. And you almost certainly don’t know that the devils have been beset by a hideous contagious cancer called devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). It seems to have been first documented in 1996 and in 2009 there was an article about it in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ten years on from that article, it appears that the devils’ immune system is self-adjusting to defeat the disease. Of course, the disease fought back and in 2014, another variant appeared. Such is the balance in a biological arms race. The BBC have a good summary here.
There are so many ethical issues to be considered from these factoids and since we are all concerned with our own pandemic, it seems to me that we should be thinking more deeply about the ethics involved.
There’s another item of current interest to researchers. Could our DNA be the source of many of our behaviours? I don’t know much about reversible epigenetics but I wonder if humanity yet knows enough to be safely editing DNA? Researchers using identical twins separated at birth and raised independently have often reported on their uncanny similarity of religious and political views. Choice and behaviour may be more determined by our genes than we’d like to think.
Dolly the Sheep (July 5, 1996 – February 14, 2003)