Scientists Started Eugenics and Gene Therapy Might Make It Mainstream

Designing Inequality Into Our Genes (Source)

The birth of the term

In the late 1800s, the field of human genetics started out with blazing optimism — geneticists had discovered the buttons behind good health and reproductive fitness, as well as a possible lever to eliminate diseases and disabilities.

Eugenics = Racial enhancement through selective breeding.

The early 20th century saw budding genetic research, which aimed to understand the mechanisms of inheritance.

How early geneticists kick-started eugenics

The rediscovery of Mendel’s principles of inheritance during late 1900s resulted in an explosion in European genetic research, which laid the groundwork for eugenic ideology.

A Eugenics Society Exhibit in the 1930s (Source)

How eugenics became popular science

Eugenics quickly escaped the lab and snowballed into a nation-wide social phenomena promoted by political leaders, with the US first to take eugenics-backed government action.

How eugenics entered Nazi politics

The enthusiasm of 20th century human geneticists influenced some of the worst atrocities in the history of humanity.

Government censored genetics in the Soviet Union

Partially due to this radicalisation, open supporters of eugenics, mendelian inheritance and genetic determinism were condemned and eventually massacred in the Soviet Union.

Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko measuring wheat in Ukraine (Source).

New times, new tools, new gene therapies

While eugenics was increasingly redeemed as flawed in its applications and its basic genetic assumptions, the atrocities during WWII marked eugenics as inherently morally wrong and evil, sparking new demands for human rights and personhood.

Gene therapy = Using genetic engineering to treat diseases or genetic disorders.

Theoretically, CRISPR editing could fix the genetic variations behind complex disorders such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression. The technology is redeemed so imperative for genetic research that it landed its founders Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2020.

Gene Therapy Approaches by CRISPR Therapeutics (Source)

Where do we evolve from here…

Without deliberation, modern gene therapies can easily become the instruments of a new eugenics revival.

Synthetic biology| Biotech | Bioeconomy

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