Human enhancement: Genetic Engineering and Evolution

Sep 1, 2019

Genetic engineering opens new possibilities for biomedical enhancement requiring ethical, societal and practical considerations to evaluate its implications for human biology, human evolution, and our natural environment. In this Commentary, we consider human enhancement, and in particular, we explore genetic enhancement in an evolutionary context. In summarizing key open questions, we highlight the importance of acknowledging multiple effects (pleiotropy) and complex epigenetic interactions between genotype, phenotype, and ecology, and the need to consider the unit of impact not only to the human body but also to human populations and their natural environment (systems biology). We also propose that a practicable distinction between 'therapy' and 'enhancement' may need to be drawn and effectively implemented in future regulations. Overall, we suggest that it is essential for ethical, philosophical and policy discussions on human enhancement to consider the empirical evidence provided by evolutionary biology, developmental biology, and other disciplines. Lay Summary This Commentary explores genetic enhancement in an evolutionary context. We highlight the multiple effects associated with germline heritable genetic intervention, the need to consider the unit of impact to human populations and their natural environment, and propose that a practicable distinction between 'therapy' and 'enhancement' is needed.