Man’s obsession with Superman has been the driving force behind cutting-edge medical science for decades. Immortal, invincible and aloof — secretly we all wish to be like the fictitious “strange visitor from another planet.” Once scientists mapped out the human genome in 2003, our inevitable next step was to find ways to tinker with it in the hope that we could eliminate the very physiological weaknesses that make us human. In mid-October, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) published a fascinating online feature titled “Why gene editing could create so many jobs” that waxed eloquent about the great economic possibilities of genomic medicine. The story forecast massive job creation in multiple industries once gene editing research and therapies are commercialised. Ethical concerns, and there are many, would be allayed through rigorous international protocols. Also, given the world keeps slipping back into recession and labor market outlook for many sectors remains dim, this influx of employment would be a godsend for the global economy. Sounds fantastic, right? Maybe. Call me cynical, but I worry the biggest problem with humanity harnessing the unlimited potential of gene editing for good is, well, human nature itself. Before that, let us review the net positives of gene editing. Without a doubt, it will help save thousands of lives by snipping off DNA that causes as yet untreatable conditions like haemophilia and sickle cell anemia, and potentially cap the heritability of diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer etc. Over time, medical costs and the lifelong care associated with these diseases should reduce sharply for both families and the state. As an added bonus, the futuristic notion known as “gene drive” will allow scientists to pass specific gene suites down the family tree. And this is not the extent of its application. Gene editing can also play a major role in stabilising food security worldwide by virus-proofing cash crops like rice, maize and wheat, and moreover optimising their nutrient intake to maximise yields in lower quality soil. All well and good, but I have two core issues with gene editing. First, I find its cheerleaders present the merits of this technology in a utopian bubble where humanity possesses the infinite wisdom to do the right thing. That, regrettably, has rarely been the case. The commercialisation of gene editing technologies, conceivably powered by nanobots, will very likely find its way to maternity clinics and drive the mass pursuit of “designer families” with “perfect” biological and psychological traits that persevere through generations via gene drives. Why should we care? Because the “superior” humans that emerge from scientists hacking evolution may plausibly turn into a new global ruling class. And who do you think will be first in line to benefit from such game-changing technologies? The global elites, of course, who will gladly shell out millions to turn their progeny into super-humans. I also wager the truly transformative procedures will never trickle down to common folk. Sound familiar? It should. This is exactly what Adolf Hitler tried to accomplish in the 1940s across Europe using the crude and genocidal tool of the Holocaust. The commercialisation of gene editing technologies, conceivably powered by nanobots, will very likely find its way to maternity clinics and drive the mass pursuit of “designer families” with “perfect” biological and psychological traits that persevere through generations via gene drives. Equally inevitable is the weaponisation of such individuals by military industrial complexes around the world to form armies of super-soldiers, thereby triggering a new and potentially catastrophic arms race. Next, dictatorships, one-party states or for that matter any ideologically or racially obsessed government could use gene editing as a potent tool for broad social reengineering. Imagine for a second how China’s “re-education” camps for Muslims in Xinjiang would look like armed with this technology. Furthermore, imagine gene drives removing the so-called homosexuality, criminality, anarchism and any other “gene” from future generations that governments consider against the “greater good.” The problem? That governments and not citizens will get to decide what qualify as social virtues or ills. And we know the primary goal of any deep-rooted status quo is self-preservation, and to that end it has no qualms about crushing all signs of dissent. Still, playing God has its pitfalls. Given our limited understanding of why the human genome was originally designed as such, there is the real possibility of great psychological and physiological harm resulting from gene editing. Even if our immune systems don’t reject the DNA implants, there is the scarier scenario of diseases we’re attempting to eradicate adapting with a speed superior to our advances in genetic science. Since as we have learned from the mass production of a myriad of antibiotics and vaccines, viruses and bacteria have a survival instinct at least matching our own, if not greater. Likewise, what about those fatal diseases that currently cannot jump species like canine distemper and Chytridiomycosis, a deadly fungus-infection in frogs, but may well be able to after we willfully rejig our DNA? Chilling thought. To that end, I fear we may be modern-day Pandora naively opening the box of new killer bugs. But surely international consensus in the United Nations (UN) on limiting the use of gene editing to save terminal patients or babies with fatal congenital diseases should prevent their abuse, right? Well, how did this approach fare with the global war on drugs in the last decade? Poorly, according to a recent International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) report. At the end of the day, it is a simple matter of economics. When demand exists for an exclusive product and the government squeezes all legitimate supply routes, a thriving black market emerges to serve the highest bidder. We’ve seen this happen before with organ and sex trafficking. To conclude, I do not doubt for a second that the rapid march of technological progress will eventually shrink gene-editing tools into over-the-counter nanobot pills. And by that time, as mankind has repeatedly demonstrated through history, we will have erected a new moral order to justify its use. Yet I fear “free will” may have long evaporated from such a world, and with it everything we hold dear as humans. The writer is an Ipoh-based independent journalist Published in Daily Times, October 31st 2018.