A few months ago scientists from France claimed that they could create sperm in a dish. They announced that they had used biotechnology to create fully functioning semen from genetic material. The same researchers have now taken out a patent on the material, only somewhat explaining their technique. So the question is – if this practice actually works, who has legal rights to the offspring if a child is made from genetically engineered sperm? The ‘discovery’ was made with a premise of helping those who have infertility problems, or who might need to undergo cancer treatments (the assumption is they mean chemo and radiation which are already deadly) but is this really part of a quiet campaign, as some have suggested, to genetically engineer human beings?
Philippe Durand and Marie-Hélène Perrard at the biotechnology company Kallistem in Lyon, France, say that their method uses a bioreactor to persuade seminiferous tubules taken from humans, rats or monkeys into producing mature sperm cells in 72 or fewer days.
The researchers claim that their aim is to freeze tissue from pre-pubescent boys who need cancer treatments, so that they would still have the opportunity to have children later in life.
Clinical trials could begin as soon as 2017. The team is waiting on permission to use a human egg for fertilization.
While the researchers say that they want to make sure the practice is ethical, there are numerous questions which should be asked considering the performance of other genetically modified organisms, with arguably, lesser genetic complication, and such serious ramifications if something goes wrong.
Furthermore, the scientists who seem extraordinarily determined to ‘create life’ in a Petri dish seem to ignore the fact that life is abundant all around us already. The campaigns to run human genetic engineering programs are also funded in large part by companies who have not exemplified benevolent stewardship of the human race, either.
Moreover, two largely divergent applications of genetic engineering must be distinguished. One changes the genes in cells in our bodies other than our egg and sperm cells. Such changes are not passed to any children we may have. Applications of this sort are currently in clinical trials and are generally considered socially acceptable. The technical term for this application is ‘somatic’ genetic engineering from the Greek term, ‘soma’.
The second application of genetic engineering changes the genes in eggs, sperm, or very early embryos. and has the potential to be used for very sinister purposes. It affects not only any children one might have, but also all succeeding generations. This type of genetic engineering, called ‘germline’ opens the door to the reconfiguration of the human species. This is a much more controversial type of GE because it could be used to make ‘super-humans,’ an idea from the transhumanist movement. The idea of transhumanism completely blurs the lines between machine and (wo)man. Utilizing cloning, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and more, people in support of this dangerous movement could arguably practice genetic cleansing that would make Nazi Germany or the ethnic ‘washing’ of Bosnian Muslims, Polynesians, Serbo-Coratians, Syrians, Native Americans, etc. look like a circus trick.
While using technology to advance medicine is not evil in its own right, the fact that we largely have had to reproduce sexually for millennia, likely roots out some of the more insidious practices that creating a fully genetically engineered human would afford.