중앙데일리

The evolution of homo sapiens

Oct 12,2017
Over the Chuseok holiday, I neglected the duty to be with family and worship the ancestors and travelled the west coast of the United States. It was where a change happened that Yuval Harari, author of 2011 best-seller “Sapiens,” would describe as homo sapiens overcoming our own limits.

More specifically, it was the place where the homo sapiens broke the law of natural selection, the evolution process of all organisms on earth, and changed animals and plants around them as well as themselves through intellectual design. Only 200 years ago, Native Americans and Americans who left the east coast to head west were fighting with guns and bows.

In Portland, where the Chinooks had lived, I met with Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health and Science University. His team succeeded in modifying a mutant gene in a human embryo using genetic scissors for the first time. He said that in 15 years, the first human with edited genes in the embryonic period will be born.

Genetic testing company Color Genomics, located near the San Francisco International Airport, analyzes genes with a few drops of saliva, not blood, to conduct pregnancy tests for mothers and their children to test for cancer risk. A Korean employee introduced me to the firm and told me about her experience with 23andMe, a DNA testing service. She said that she did the test and it turned out that she was one third Korean, one third Chinese and one third Japanese.

Yuval Harari wrote, “Within a century or even a few decades, genetic engineering and other forms of biological engineering might enable us to make far-reaching alterations not only to our physiology, immune system, and life expectancy, but also to our intellectual and emotional capacities,” and after the changes, we could no longer be homo sapiens.

In the dawn of the 21st century — as 2017 would be just a little over 4 am if you divided the 21st century into 24 hours — the United States is making a landmark change in natural history. Regardless of whether the artificial evolution is desirable or not, the species of homo sapiens is changing or coming to an end.

When homo sapiens appeared and evolved more than 100,000 years ago, homo erectus, which belonged to the same genus, but did not evolve fast enough, went extinct.

The United States, the United Kingdom, China and Japan are evolving through intellectual design, but the tightened Bioethics and Safety Act created after the Hwang Woo-seok crisis keeps researchers in Korea tied up. Considering the fate of our ancestors 100,000 years ago, they would understand why I had to skip the holiday ritual and travel abroad.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 11, Page 30

*The author is a deputy industrial news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

CHOI JOON-HO



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