And while we may shrug or even cheer, if we see a mother elephant give birth to a fertile woolly mammoth, some time in the next 20 years, it is both enticing and worrisome to imagine we might rush into “designing” or pre-modifying human babies -- selecting desirable traits and eliminating genes that cause inherited diseases.
"Any scientist with molecular biology skills and knowledge of how to work with embryos is going to be able to do this," according to Jennifer Doudna, a biological researcher at UC Berkeley.
== Should We Regulate? ==
The reflex to pass laws and ban something seems nearly universal… and nearly always turns out wrong, since all you’ll do is drive the endeavor underground, into secret dabbling by the uber-castes — the perfect formula for uncriticized plans to go awry and give us Hollywood-Crichtonian dire scenarios.
Much better is the true science fiction film GATTACA, which portrays a society genuinely concerned over the injustices and grappling with how to solve the problems.
Many countries ban or regulate germ-line engineering, and leading scientists have recently called for a summit to discuss these issues, saying that researchers should accept a self-imposed moratorium on techniques that could lead to genetically altered children.
Nor will the simplistic assumption that all choices have to be black and white, zero sum, either-or.
== A potential positive-sum? ==
Consider the elegance of this proposed compromise. Thus, the resulting child, while “best” in many ways (free of any disease genes, etc), will still be one that the couple might have had naturally.
Gradual human improvement, without any of the outrageously hubristic meddling that wise people rightfully fear. (No fashionable feathers or lizard tails, just kids who are the healthiest and smartest and strongest that the parents might have had, anyway.)
It is a notion so insightful that biologists 40 years later have only recently started to discuss what may turn out to be Heinlein’s principal source of fame, centuries from now.