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2005-12-06
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Gattaca Revisited

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Tagged As: Biology and Science

In 1997, the film Gattaca portrayed a world where humans are genetically screened for imperfections to define their role in society. Customizing offspring to genetic perfection was an opportunity afforded upon the extremely wealthy. That fictional world has almost arrived.

Researchers at Cornell University have grown their own sperm and egg cells using an artificial haploidization process and stem cells. The process borrows from the principles of cloning by allowing scientists to custom pick the chromosomes that fuse rather than allowing nature to perform the haploidization. Such a step will precede even Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), an IVF screening technique where zygotes are analyzed for known genetic defects and abnormalities like Down Syndrome.

PGD is already a controversial process because it allows parents to screen other genetic qualities like sex - allowing a premature female infanticide of sorts in some cultures. Controlling the chromosomes completely from fertilization opens a new round of ethical questions. Will genetic optimization reveal qualities of a 'master race' by which discrimination will rebound? Can controlled fertilization actually halt evolution within the human species?



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