Nanotechnology is revolutionizing everything from industry to medicine. We live in the most scientifically advanced age of all time, while simultaneously living in a profoundly scientifically-illiterate era, especially in the United States.
People used to believe the sun was driven around the Earth by some god in a chariot, but considering what genuine scientific knowledge they had at the time, the sun god and his chariot was a relatively reasonable argument.
What scientific knowledge we have now and what the average American understands about that knowledge is a widening gap that has already been the cause of restrictions leading to unnecessary suffering and inhibited progress.
There is a real danger that unless this gap is narrowed, the world will repeat what history has shown to be a trend: the fear of new advances leading to unfounded, unnecessary, and even sometimes violent backlashes.
It wasn’t that long ago that people began to understand the double helix concept of DNA and how it pertains to human evolution and genetics. That understanding has now arguably crossed a threshold, thanks in no small part to home DNA kit testing. Millions around the world have swabbed their cheeks and sent in their DNA for information on their ancestry, heredity (and also increasingly, for information on what genetic diseases they might be more predisposed towards.)
list of 10 major DNA test kit providers shows the tech is cheaper, faster, and more specified than ever. For many folks, such heritage or health DNA tests has triggered curiosity and resulted in them digging deeper into DNA and coming away educated and edified.
But too many still simply don’t understand even the most basic facts, and these are the people who – it’s a fair prediction – will soon begin hollering about scientists ‘playing God’ as emerging technologies mixing nanotechnology and DNA structures begin to accelerate.
It’s time for scientists and lay scientists to consider how to better educate the public on emerging technologies – especially related to DNA –to avoid a predictable backlash from an undereducated populous led by leaders who sometimes seem to get their ideas from science fiction.
The 1997 film Gattaca shows a world where those found with certain genetic markers at birth are barred from jobs and assigned low-ranked positions. It’s an excellent film and even visionary. But the situation envisioned by Gattaca is not the same as utilizing nanotechnology and DNA structures to build a pathway for a targeted cancer drug, for example. Will it be possible to tinker with genetics in profoundly unethical ways? The answer is almost certainly a future yes if it hasn’t already been employed by the unscrupulous.
Is a world such as depicted in Gattaca possible? Yes, is again the answer, but those moral concerns can be addressed by legislation and convention. What we need to avoid is the unfortunate possibility of some ban on DNA research based on some legislators equating DNA nanotechnology with eugenics.
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