Gene-editing, Moderna, and transhumanism

As gene-based mRNA vaccines from Moderna are being designed and tested at warp speeds to fight Covid-19, this is also bringing the debate over transhumanism into the forefront.

Transhumanism is a type of futurist philosophy aimed at transforming the human species by means of biotechnologies.  Transhumanists see disease, aging and death as undesirable and unnecessary, and aim to transform human beings into post-human species with greater capacities than those of present human beings.

The philosophy is based on secular humanism and sees human nature as an evolutionary work-in-progress with room for improvement and enhancement.  However, it is more radical in that it promotes not only traditional means of improving human nature such as education and cultural refinement, but also direct application of medicine and technology to overcome basic biological limits.

Transhumanists give special attention to genetic engineering, robotics, molecular nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, and the Covid-19 pandemic is providing gene-based vaccines a chance to break through into the global health market.

Moderna and gene-editing

Currently there are various companies such as Inovio, Moderna and CanSino Biologics that are testing mRNA and DNA vaccines to counter SARS coronavirus-2 (SARS CoV-2) which causes Covid-19, but Moderna is the front runner that recently nabbed $472 million from U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop the vaccine.  This is in addition to the $483 million it had already received back in April, bringing its total funding to $955 million.

With U.S. government funding at nearly $1 billion for one company, Moderna may be too big to fail. However, this is perplexing for a company that has never produced a single vaccine. According to a CNN report, Moderna was only established in 2010, has never brought a product to market, nor gotten any of its nine or so vaccine candidates approved for use by the FDA.

However, it has been a long-term Pentagon contractor for biodefense, working closely with Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) on gene-editing and mRNA therapeutics.  DARPA is focused on developing emerging disruptive technologies to maintain a competitive edge over adversaries, including many ‘transhuman’ projects such as genetic engineering and soldier enhancement via robotics.

In the case of Moderna and mRNA therapeutics, DNA vaccines is considered a new paradigm that would disrupt the pharmaceutical industry.  Its vision is to harness a new technology that synthesizes messenger RNA, or mRNA—which is an instruction manual in every living cell for creating protein—to prompt the human body to make its own medicine.

So instead of injecting a piece of virus into a person to stimulate the immune system, the synthesized genes would be shot into the body whereby the genes are edited, deleted, added, to re-engineer human DNA to resist the disease.  If successful, scientists hope DNA vaccines could be a “transformative” treatment for heart disease, metabolic and genetic diseases, kidney failure and even cancer. Moreover, it could be an effective form of biodefense to protect the population against biological warfare, which is also the mandate for DARPA and BARDA.

Transhumanism and hybrids

Indeed, DARPA is also developing other forms of human enhancement in addition to gene editing.  Already scientists are merging robotics with the human body in brain-to-computer interface (BCI), wherein individuals with physical injuries can regain their functions, and soldiers become smarter and more powerful through the fusing of their brain with machines.

In a way, the Pentagon is now building real iron man similar to the American superhero based on the Marvel Comics character.  Soldiers in exoskeleton suits are physically more powerful than those without, while other soldiers with bionic limbs perform better than adversaries with human limbs.  When one adds artificial intelligence with BCI, the sky is the limit for an army of these genetically modified and robotically enhanced humanoids.

But U.S. is not the only country engaged in human enhancement and transhumanism, as Russia and China are also in hot pursuit with exoskeletons, vaccines and brain implants.  As this competition gains traction, one wonders what the future of their militaries may look like as human beings are steadily integrated with machines to become armies of iron man.

Here the Book of Daniel may lend some insights.  In interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an image with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay, Daniel revealed the parts as the sequence of world empires, with the feet of iron and clay being the last.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream manDaniel 2

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In Daniel 2:43 it is written, “as you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay,” that seems to describe a hybrid of man (clay) mixed with machine (iron).  And as transhumanism and biotech gain momentum, armies of hybrid humans of iron and clay may be a real possibility in a not too distant future world.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN research consultant for Jane's Information Group.
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