设计生命
A design for life
692字
2020-01-15 22:24
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火星译客

DEBATE ABOUT using science to create “bespoke” human beings of one sort or another usually revolves around the ideas of genetic engineering and cloning. People worry about these for two reasons. One is practical. The tinkering involved could end up harming the resulting individual. The other is a more visceral dislike of interfering with the process of reproduction, perhaps best encapsulated in the phrase “playing God”.

运用科学技术手段,人们能够“量身定制”自己的后代,这就引发了争议,而围绕这个的争论通常围绕着基因工程和克隆技术展开。人们对此感到担忧出于两种原因。第一是出于现实原因,要想通过基因编辑产下婴儿,就得去伤害体外受精的受体。第二,这样做会干涉人类繁衍后代的过程。这也许就是把人关在腹腔里“与神做游戏”,由此引发了人们的不满。 
 

There is, however, a third way that the genetic dice which are thrown at the beginning of human life might be loaded—and it does not involve any risky tinkering. It is a twist on the well-established procedure of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The twist would be to decide, on the basis of their DNA, which of a group of available embryos should be implanted and brought to term.

然而,在人类身上进行基因编辑还有第三种方式,这种方式不含任何伤害他人的风险因素。体外受精流程业已完善,而这种技术便来自体外受精技术的发展,但并非人们意料之中。这次意外发展基于胚胎的脱氧核糖核酸,如果胚胎状况允许,便可移植并让受精受体接受基因编辑。

The result would be a child optimised with the best-available genetic profile for a long and healthy life. And this is not science fiction. Two American firms have been working on the idea for some time, and one of them is now implementing it.

这样一来,孩子身上携带的基因全都经过了优化,他们由此可以健康长寿,可以健康生活。如今,这已并非仅仅科幻作品中的场景。美国现在已有两家公司在此项目上投入了一些精力,其中一家公司已经开始着手实施这样的基因编辑了。

Single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP, or “snip”) profiling, as the technique is called, promises healthier offspring—a clear good. It may also provide a way to upgrade things only tangentially associated with health, such as height and, more controversially, intelligence. Moreover, it is a technique that could be applied generation on generation, to improve grandchildren and great-grandchildren still further.

这种技术就是所谓的单核苷酸多态性分析。运用这种技术进行基因编辑后产下的后代不仅会更加健康,而且还可以让产下的后代有着各种显而易见的优势,例如身形更加高大,亦或是智力超群。另外,这种技术可以用在一代又一代人身上,子子孙孙无穷尽也。

SNPs are the smallest possible differences between individuals’DNA—single genetic letters. Individually, most have little consequence. But there are millions of them in every human genome and their combined effects can be big. SNP profiling looks for particular combinations of SNPs that research has shown are associated with the risks of developing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. This is important medical information for people now alive, and can be used to recommend screening programmes, changes of behaviour and prophylactic drugs.

单核苷酸多态性是人与人之间最小的差异单位,就像是组成基因片段的一个个字符。对于个人来讲,单核苷酸对性状没有什么影响。但是,人体基因组中有数百万单核苷酸,如此多的单核苷酸聚在一起便会对性状产生很大影响。此前,研究已经发现,一些单核苷酸与癌症、糖尿病和心脏病有一些联系,单核苷酸编辑就是要把这些导致疾病的单核苷酸以特定方式重新排列组合。对于尚且在世的人们来说,这都是非常重要的医疗信息,可以解读这些单核苷酸来推荐体检筛查程序,可以根据它们所携带信息改变生活习惯,也可以根据这些信息服用预防性药物。

For those willing to undergo IVF, and with the money to pay for it, it may also be possible to SNP-profile an embryo and thus foretell its future. As well as disease risk, height and intelligence, SNP-profiling might eventually be capable of predicting (albeit imperfectly, for environment also plays a role) things as diverse as television-viewing habits, likelihood of being bullied at school and probability of getting divorced.

对于那些想要试管婴儿且经济状况允许的人来说,通过单核苷酸编辑胚胎基因产下婴儿,并利用单核苷酸所携带信息预见未来,这绝非空中楼阁。这样做不仅能降低孩子罹患疾病的风险,孩子长大后也比别人高大、比别人聪慧。通过单核苷酸编辑基因甚至可能预测许多事情,例如孩子看电视时会有哪些习惯?孩子是否会遭受校园霸凌?甚至预测夫妻离婚可能性为几何?(由于环境也是影响性状的重要原因,预测结果并非十全十美)。

At the moment, non-medical attributes are not on the menu offered by would-be embryo SNP-profilers. But if the technique works it is hard to believe that they will not be on someone’s menu in the future. And that does raise questions.

目前,胚胎单核苷酸编辑还无法用于临床实践。但是,一旦这项技术发展成熟,人们就不得不相信,未来人类就像是菜单上的菜品一样可以自由定制了,这就引发了一系列问题。

What all this amounts to is, in essence, a supercharged version of an existing process known as assortative mating. It is already true that intelligent, successful (and therefore probably rich) people seek each other out as partners. In doing so, they bring to the table whatever genetic variations helped make them intelligent, successful and rich, which they then pass on to their children. SNP profiling—available, at least to start with, only to those who can afford it—will enhance that by letting parents pick tall, good-looking and above all clever offspring.

实际上,单核苷酸编辑就相当于现存的选型交配技术,只不过是后者的一种加强版本。书香门第、成功人士(可能还有豪商巨富)会在同类之间寻找彼此的伴侣,这毋庸置疑。在这个过程中,他们把基因遗传到子孙后代,无论基因怎么变化,其子孙也依然饱读诗书,依然是成功人士,依然是腰缠万贯。如果单核苷酸编辑成为现实,哪怕只有一部分经济能力允许的人能够承受,父母完全可以自由选择个子高的、长得好看的、而且聪明过人的基因,让后代携带这些优良基因。

For a single generation, that may not matter too much to the rest of society. It would be but one extra privilege that the rich enjoy. Piled generation on generation, however, it really might create a genetic elite. SNP-profiling is already used to enhance desired attributes in livestock, so it seems reasonable to assume it will work on people.

对于一代人来说,这项技术发展对于社会可能没有什么影响。但是,技术会成为一种只有富贵人家才能拥有的特权。然而,如果一代又一代人都能进行单核苷酸编辑,就可能确实会创造出一个遗传精英家族。目前,单核苷酸编辑技术已经用在牲畜上了。如果用它根据人们意愿去改变人的某种特质,那么人们认为它会在人身上起作用的观点也就合情合理了。

The gene genie is out of the bottle

基因编辑走出实验室

Perhaps that is tomorrow’s problem. For the moment there seems no reason beyond envy to oppose embryo SNP-profiling. But, from H.G. Wells’s Eloi in “The Time Machine” to Aldous Huxley’s Alphas in “Brave New World”, science fiction is full of breeding programmes for elite humans that have gone wrong. Sci-fi always enjoys portraying dystopias, and mostly they do not come true. But it might be wise to debate the matter now, just in case this time people really are unknowingly playing God.

这可能就是人们将来要面临的问题。当前,反对胚胎单核苷酸编辑,除了嫉妒有钱人似乎别无原因。但是,从H.G. Wells所著《时间机器》中的Eloi到Aldous Huxley所著《勇敢的新世界》中的Alpha,各种科幻小说中充斥着许多精英人类育种程序,出现了许多错误。科幻总是喜欢刻画反乌托邦的世界,但是大多数情况下这些反乌托邦世界并没有实现。现在,围绕这个问题展开讨论可能才是明智之举,以防人们在不知不觉中扮演了上帝的角色。

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