Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

Beyond Human is an informative and accessible guide for all those interested in the developing sciences of genetic engineering, bio printing and human cloning. Illustrating the ideas with reference to well-known science fiction films and novels, the author provides a unique insight into and understanding of how genetic manipulation, cloning, and other novel bio-technologies will one day allow us to redesign our species. It also addresses the legitimate concerns about “playing God”, while at the same time embracing the positive aspects of the scientific trajectory that will lead to our transhuman future.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

1. Human Genetic Engineering

Abstract
For many sci-fi enthusiasts, and I am among them, Blade Runner is arguably the greatest and most powerfully prophetic sci-fi film of all time. When Ridley Scott’s masterpiece first appeared in 1982, the year 2019 was 37 years in the future and nobody was talking about human genetic engineering—except sci-fi enthusiasts perhaps. But today, in 2013, we’re just 6 years away, and practically every popular science magazine has at least one article dedicated to the subject of genetic manipulation in each issue. Rarely has a film been so prescient. For those unfamiliar with Ridley Scott’s epic, the Blade Runner story, which is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is fairly straightforward. Set in 2019 Los Angeles, the film revolves around Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), a Blade Runner (member of a police special operations unit), who must hunt and retire (read: kill) replicants (genetically engineered beings virtually identical to humans). In short: cop hunts and kills super-humans. For me Blade Runner was much more than a simple prediction of the future. At the movie’s core is the question of what it means to be human, although this question is never explicitly asked in the film. The idea of genetically enhanced humanity is played out between Deckard and the replicants, especially Roy Batty, the alpha replicant. One of the most thought-provoking themes explored in the movie is that these replicants, created for the use of humans, could override their own limitations and develop humanity, as evidenced in the film’s final scene when Batty saves Deckard from certain death. Then there is the idea of providing the replicants with memories.
Erik Seedhouse

2. Building Better Sportsmen: The Genetic Enhancement of Athletes

Abstract
In the early 1980s, I was a marathon runner with ambitions to run at world class level, which would have required me to run the 42-km distance in about 2 h and 10 min. In those days genetic testing was not available, so to gauge my potential I volunteered for various kinds of exercise tests, including maximal oxygen uptake assessments, lactate threshold tests, and (painful!) muscle biopsies. After one series of tests, the exercise physiologist gave me the not-so-good news: with the physiological engine I had, the best marathon time I could hope to run was around 2 h and 15 min. Pretty good, but not world class. But, he continued, pointing to a cluster of slow twitch muscle fibers on a slide, I had the potential to excel at longer distances. It turned out he was right. I went on to become a world class 100-km runner, winning several international races at that distance, placing third in the 1992 World 100 km Championships, and setting several national ultra-distance running records along the way. Later, I applied my physiological potential to the world of ultra-distance triathlon, winning races ranging in distance from the double ironman to the ten times ironman—the Decatriathlon. I retired in 1999, after completing Race Across America (RAAM), a non-stop bike race from the west coast to the east coast of the United States, fairly satisfied I had made the most of my genetic potential, although I can’t be sure.
Erik Seedhouse

3. Cloning

Abstract
In 1979, a low budget movie, The Clonus Horror (usually referred to as Clonus), told the story of an isolated community in a remote desert, where clones were bred as a source of replacement organs for the social elite. A few years later, Michael Bay, of Transformers fame, decided Clonus could be made as a big budget movie: The Island. Released in 2005, The Island borrowed not only from Clonus, but also from other cloning/escape-from-dystopia sci-fi films, such as Fahrenheit 451, THX 1138, and Logan’s Run. The key players in The Island are Lincoln Six Echo (played by Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), who, like the characters in Clonus, live in a modified military compound governed by strict rules. Running the facility is Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), founder of Merrick Biotech. The residents (inmates) have been indoctrinated into believing the world has become too contaminated for human life, which is why everyone must live in the hermetically sealed compound until they can move to The Island—supposedly the last pathogen-free area on the planet. Every week a lottery is held and a winner is selected to go to The Island. Echoing the Clonus plot, Lincoln questions the reality of his world when he has dreams he knows can’t be his. One day Lincoln witnesses a fellow inmate being wheeled into surgery to have his organs harvested. Lincoln puts the pieces together: the lottery is a guise to kill the “winners” for organ harvesting. The action—involving Lincoln and Jordan’s escape from the compound, their realization they are clones of wealthy sponsors, their search for their sponsors while being followed by mercenaries paid by Merrick, and a switched identity—cumulates in a clash with Merrick and the release of the clones.
Erik Seedhouse

4. The Human Clone Market

Abstract
Imagine the following scenario. A few years from now, those who can afford it will contract cloning labs to grow clones to supply duplicate organs or replace body parts. Clones will be genetically matched to clients so they can be used in transplants without being attacked by the client’s immune system. To side-step the ethical argument of what is considered human, the client’s clones will be grown as headless embryos, without a brain or a central nervous system. Destined never to leave the lab, these cloned embryos will develop all the necessary body parts, including a heart, a circulatory system, lungs, and a digestive system. For those without deep pockets, the cloning labs will offer economy clones featuring one or more specific organs. Using embryo cloning techniques developed in Britain in the late 1990s, the cloning labs will grow these headless clones to match each stage of a child’s or adult’s development, so that organs will be available throughout the client’s life.
Erik Seedhouse

5. Bioprinting

Abstract
Printed guns. Cars. Aircraft components. Running shoes. It is common knowledge that manufacturing and prototyping have been transformed by the revolution that is 3D printing—a technology that creates 3D objects from digital models. The technology, virtually unheard of a couple of years ago—except among sci-fi aficionados—now makes headlines around the world on a daily basis. While this technology continues to touch every industry from aerospace to automotive parts, its most life-changing application lies in the medical arena. 3D bioprinting artificially constructs living tissue by extruding not metal or plastic, but cells. By building biological structures layer by layer, bioprinters can craft anything from bladders to bone, and skulls to skin. Thanks to this technology, the printing of beating human hearts is no longer the stuff of sci-fi movies—it’s a short distance over the horizon.
Erik Seedhouse

6. Printing Humans

Abstract
The above is an excerpt from the screenplay of The Fifth Element, a Luc Besson sci-fi epic set in the twenty-third century. In a universe threatened by evil, the only hope for mankind is the Fifth Element/Supreme Being, who visits Earth every 5000 years to protect humans with four stones of the four elements: fire, water, earth, and air. The movie begins with a Mondoshawan spacecraft on its way to Earth to bring back the Fifth Element but the spaceship is destroyed by the evil Mangalores. Fortunately, some genetic material of the Fifth Element is salvaged and a team of scientists use the DNA remains to rebuild (bioprint) the Supreme Being, Leeloo, which is what is happening in the above excerpt.
Erik Seedhouse

7. Designing Humans

Abstract
Humans are fragile organisms. As long as there is enough air and the temperature isn’t too hot or too cold, we function just fine. But, if we’re deprived of air for any length of time, or if the temperature plummets, we’re in trouble. Put simply, we’re not designed to explore the more extreme areas of this planet, or any other planet, without protection. Today, it is nuts and bolts engineering that allows us to explore the ocean depths and journey into space, but in the future it might be a different kind of engineering that allows us to survive—and even thrive—in extreme environments. This is a theme that sci-fi writers have followed for decades; rather than build machines to protect fragile human bodies, sci-fi authors bioengineer their characters’ bodies. Here are some examples.
Erik Seedhouse

8. Perils and Promises

Abstract
It is June 2049. You’re strapped into your seat about to lift off on an interplanetary journey to Mars. Your job as an astronaut was determined before you were born as part of a pre-birth contract that paid for your genetic design. Your father had always wanted to be an astronaut but never made it to the final round of interviews and instead made a career as a military pilot. Since he didn’t earn enough to pay for all your genetic tweaking, he signed the pre-birth contract with Clones R Us for future employment for you as an astronaut and this Mars mission will pay the final instalment of that contract. Your father, being the vain type, decided to clone himself, so you have his blue eyes, his brown hair, and even a birthmark on your right shoulder. Unlike your father, you have never been ill because you were screened for genetic diseases and were gifted a customized genetic heritage based on professional astronauts, so you have just the right temperament, intelligence, and leadership to do the job.
Erik Seedhouse

9. Evolutionary Engineering

Abstract
For this closing chapter we revisit Blade Runner. As a sci-fi fan and popular science writer, I usually assess the importance of a sci-fi film by its ability not only to engage in prediction and foresight, but also to portray plausible futures. Movies such as Alien are great for entertainment, but offer little in their exploration of man’s relationship to science and technology, and the risks and benefits they hold for the future. This is why Blade Runner could also be categorized as a future-realism movie. Today, given the potential for human engineering and cloning, Blade Runner has never been more relevant. Perhaps that’s why, in a poll conducted by the Guardian newspaper to find the best sci-fi movie of all time, Blade Runner was the runaway favourite.
Erik Seedhouse

Backmatter

Additional information

Premium Partner

    Image Credits