Rather than leaving it to fate, a 30-year-old woman recently selected which among a batch of her eggs she wished to become her child.
By genetically screening 23 eggs and deciding which ones to fertilize, some might argue the woman and her doctor "played God." But her baby was born free of the mother's genetic curse of early onset Alzheimer's.
Medical breakthrough or genetic quagmire?
As the case, announced by a Chicago doctor in February signals, human cloning is hardly the only genetic ethical dilemma that the nation's scientists and lawmakers face. The Senate is now considering whether to vote with the House and ban human cloning, but other issues surely lie ahead.
For example, how should government regulate a possible market in cloned pigs that are harvested for human transplants? Should athletes be permitted to improve their performances through "gene doping?" And should scientists be able to incorporate chimpanzee or chimpanzee-like genes into people to help fight disease? Looming further in the future is the possibility of parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, and whether women should be allowed to conceive with the help of science, alone.
More Genetic Legislation?
"This is a very volatile time in biomedical research," said Thaddeus Golos, a genetic researcher at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center. "What was science fiction five years ago is now moving into the marketplace."
In fact, some lawmakers are well aware that today's debates on human cloning are only a prelude of many more to come. Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., for example, foresees state or federal government getting involved in regulating genetic manipulation of unborn children.
"There are many many other issues besides human cloning," said Weldon, an internist with a background in molecular genetic research who voted to ban human cloning in the House vote. "Some of the issues we're going to wrestle with will depend on whether the Senate passes the bill banning human cloning or not. One issue can quickly lead to another."
Below are a few fields of genetic research that may soon be facing legal and ethical scrutiny.
What Lies Ahead
Genetically Groomed Athletes: H. Lee Sweeney of the University of Pennsylvania has created a line of "mighty mice."
The rodents feature ripped muscles in their legs and are 20 percent stronger than their former selves — even after no exercise. With a little exercise, the mice increased their strength by 30 percent. What's more, they don't lose their added strength as they age.
Sweeney created the mice with an eye toward helping the elderly maintain strength late in life and possibly helping those with muscular dystrophy. But he's also aware it could trigger a new kind of illicit enhancement among athletes.
"It amazes me how safety is not as important to many athletes as performance," he said.
To enhance his mice, Sweeney injected them with a virus that "infected" the rodents' muscles with a synthetic gene. The gene, in turn, instructs the muscles to produce more insulin-like growth factor-1, which adds muscle.
So far Sweeney has tested the procedure on mice and rats and he hopes to try it on dogs. It's not close to being ready to try on people, he says, but that hasn't stopped athletes from calling him.
"I've been approached by many athletes who are interested in trying it out," he said. "I turn them away immediately."