Making humans smarter will involve combinations of gene therapies, brain prostheses, in situ regenerative techniques (using stem cells, growth factors, etc), advanced nootropic drugs, etc., and techniques still to be discovered.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a relatively new technology for editing genomes. CRISPR has the potential to edit genomes quckly and precisely, using relatively simple techniques. Therapeutic uses of this technology in humans will be used to treat fatal and degenerative diseases first.
Because it is so simple and easy to use, CRISPR has generated huge excitement in the worlds of molecular biology, medical research, commercial biotechnology—and gene therapy, where it may make it possible to make changes with profound consequences.
One of CRISPR’s great attractions is that it can be used to introduce, or remove, a number of different genes at a time. Most disorders are not caused by just one gene going wrong; being able to manipulate many different genes in a cell line, plant or animal opens new avenues for the study of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and autism where a number of genes are involved, along with the environment. In the past a mouse with as few as three genes knocked out would have taken as many years to create; now it can be done in three weeks.
In clinical trials of its HIV treatment, Sangamo takes the immune cells that the virus infects out of the patient’s bloodstream and edits in a mutation that makes them highly resistant to infection. It then grows up a large number of the edited cells and infuses them back into the patient, where it is hoped they will flourish. A similar sort of approach can also be used in blood disorders such as beta-thalassaemia and sickle-cell disease which are caused by mutations in the globin gene. The idea is to extract blood stem cells from bone marrow, edit them so as to switch on the production of fetal haemoglobin (which the body stops producing shortly after birth, even if it cannot make the adult stuff) and return the stem cells to the body. It would be like a bone-marrow transplant—except that since the new genetically improved cells come from the patient’s own body there is no danger of rejection. ___ CRISPR Made Simple
A dizzying range of applications has researchers turning to CRISPR to develop therapies for everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer to HIV (see article). By allowing doctors to put just the right cancer-hunting genes into a patient’s immune system, the technology could lead to new approaches to oncology. It may also accelerate the progress of gene therapy—where doctors put normal genes into the cells of people who suffer from genetic diseases such as Tay Sachs or cystic fibrosis.
It will be years, perhaps even decades, before CRISPR is being used to make designer babies.
Perhaps it will be decades before designer babies are made in the US, but in China it is likely to be only a few years.
One of the traits that parents will want implanted into their babies’ genes, will be super-intelligence. Here is how Stephen Hsu describes the overall genetic strategy to create super-intelligent babies:
1. Cognitive ability is highly heritable. At least half the variance is genetic in origin.
2. It is influenced by many (probably thousands) of common variants (see GCTA estimates of heritability due to common SNPs). We know there are many because the fewer there are the larger the (average) individual effect size of each variant would have to be. But then the SNPs would be easy to detect with small sample size.
Recent studies with large sample sizes detected ~70 SNP hits, but would have detected many more if effect sizes were consistent with, e.g., only hundreds of causal variants in total.
3. Since these are common variants the probability of having the negative variant — with (-) effect on g score — is not small (e.g., like 10% or more).
4. So each individual is carrying around many hundreds (if not thousands) of (-) variants.
5. As long as effects are roughly additive, we know that changing ALL or MOST of these (-) variants into (+) variants would push an individual many standard deviations (SDs) above the population mean. Such an individual would be far beyond any historical figure in cognitive ability.
Given more details we can estimate the average number of (-) variants carried by individuals, and how many SDs are up for grabs from flipping (-) to (+). As is the case with most domesticated plants and animals, we expect that the existing variation in the population allows for many SDs of improvement (see figure below).
Hsu bases his approach on the recent findings that most of the gene variants that determine IQ are “bad alleles,” or as he puts it: (-) variants. By merely replacing bad alleles [(-) variants] with good alleles [(+) variants], gene modified zygotes can lead to much more intelligent infants. This is likely how Chinese labs will proceed, in the beginning.
And all of that can be done without even discovering any genes for “superintelligence.” Eventually, however, it is likely that “gene clusters” for superior intelligence will be discovered.
Concerning brain differences between humans and lower animals: The genes of humans and frogs are quite similar. So why are human brains so much larger than frog brains?
Humans and frogs, for example, have been evolving separately for 350 million years and use a remarkably similar repertoire of genes to build organs in the body. So what accounts for the vast range of organ size and complexity?
Here’s how alternative splicing works: specific sections of a gene called exons may be included or excluded from the final messenger RNA (mRNA) that expresses the gene (creates proteins). And that changes the arrangement of amino acid sequences.
There are two forms of PTBP1: one that is common in all vertebrates, and another in mammals. The researchers showed that in mammalian cells, the presence of the mammalian version of PTBP1 unleashes a cascade of alternative splicing events that lead to a cell becoming a neuron instead of a skin cell, for example.
___ Why You Are Smarter Than a Frog
The study is published in the August 20 issue of Science.
Note: The following videos are not endorsed by this blog. They are only presented as examples of how some people look at the topic of intelligence enhancement.
Futurists such as Ray Kurzweil have looked toward machine super-intelligence — and a machine singularity — as the way for humans to advance most quickly into the future.
But it might be wiser to work on the enhancement of human brains and human intelligence first.