DNA data storage or rise of genetically modified humans?

I’ve noticed several news stories and advertisements lately regarding the future of data storage. Apparently, researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute have stored and retrieved a few digital files in DNA. That’s interesting on many levels, yet the sales pitch seems to be focused on the hard drive market. Here are some example articles:

Why DNA Will Someday Replace the Hard Drive

Storing Shakespeare and “I Have a Dream” in DNA

New technique stores terabytes of data on DNA with 100% accuracy

Depending on your background, and your level of trust in scientists, you might interpret this news as a another step in the advancement of technology. It could enable lighter cell phones, thinner notebook computers, and smaller data storage centers. All of those things could be true, but the discussion is missing a very important and serious application: People will be able to store and print all forms of life, which will inevitably include genetically modified humans. Once a DNA sequence is printed or cloned, it has already been shown using sheep, that it can be inserted into an egg, and a surrogate mother can grow and bear the child.

From what I have read, a person’s DNA represents about 6 GB of data. Therefore, your genetic code, which is a large part of what makes up who you are, would probably fit on your cell phone using today’s technology. It would not be surprising if most people reading this blog have their DNA sequenced within the next 20 years. It is not a stretch to think that some of you will request to store your sequence on a reliable form of digital media, like a Blu-Ray disc, for example.

Then what? What if you could send your DNA out for a little touch-up, deleting a few flaws and disease markers here and there? What if your DNA could be virtually mated with anyone who you choose? Would you want to have a child made from a modified version of yourself and your favorite movie star? What if you could add or select features, such as better metabolism, greater intelligence, or a particular eye or hair color? Could all of this be used to make super humans or warriors?

My moral compass says that we should not go down this path. But, somebody’s going to do it anyway. Let’s just be honest and recognize that the target market for this technology is biological elitists who want to make super-babies, not those who are overburdened by the size and weight of their personal electronics.

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