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The triumph of the genetic revolution Redesigning HumansGregory Stock 277pp Penguin Twas ever thus Or a turning point in human evolution Two alternative futures are being paraded before a jittery public Francis Fukuyama having declared the end of history is on his way to another bestseller with Our Posthuman Future predicting that advances in biotechnology threaten our common humanity Gregory Stock on the other hand looks at gene manipulation and artificial reproduction and sees hope health and challenge If we can make better human beings why not do it Mother Nature has not been particularly kind Brutal decay lies in store for each of us lucky enough to reach it Postponing the blighting afflictions - stroke cancer Alzheimers - reducing infertility preventing birth defects all these can hardly be called inhumane Stocks book has much to offer those inclined to believe that the end of the world is not yet nigh He directs at the medical school of UCLA a programme on the impact of new technologies on human society He musters evidence that the worst may be behind us Nuclear annihilation forced sterilisation and eugenics or race hygiene are 20th-century scientific nightmares that have retreated rather than advanced And playing God is as old as harnessing fire carving stone tools rotating crops or flying aircraft He sees the worst fears are unrealistic - such as the creation of a new breed a race distinct from ordinary mortals Centuries of dog-breeding he points out have not altered the canine species Designer babies also are unlikely All the new techniques carry inherent risks that will deter those who would drastically alter genes The coming genetic revolution in Stocks view will be wary of unintended consequences and will advance in slow reversible steps He cites Chinas gender imbalance the unforeseen corollary of its one-child policy In a generation this anomaly will disappear as did the surplus of females following the slaughter of the first world
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