In a world where gene editing is becoming increasingly common among the wealthier classes, alternatives arise to cater for those who either choose to or are financially unable to use germline improvement technologies.
One of them is a company called New Natural that offers services and products that enable people to have better control over the exposome, which dictates the epigenetic changes in the genome. The company has now released their first product line, the Three Wise Friends, which provides the expecting parent(s) control over the phenotypic development of the embryo.
The concept presented explores the future of measures taken by aspiring parents to provide for better genomic health for their child. The Three Wise Friends are the result of a 10-week project, which was part of the course in Dwelling with Faceless Interaction (Prototyping digitalised domestic experiences of the future). The aim was to gain experience in the process of designing a product or a system where playfulness and ubiquitous computing are involved.
I’m the only one that hasn’t done it so far. Both my sisters decided to have the bits that accounted for the family illnesses to be chipped away, like the diseased branches of an otherwise flourishing tree.
Marianna and her partner, Sami, have decided to have a child. Loaded with the pressure of being the last of three siblings to have children, the last with the choice of passing on the original, unmodified germline, with all its faults and blessings, she has to make a choice. Although she is afraid that the child will suffer from the age old family illnesses that are splattered around their well-documented family histories, she remains fascinated by the all the hidden surprises the tight coils in every cell of her body contain. Deleting a fragment of the child’s DNA seems too final. Still, too little is known about the intricate interconnectedness of genes. She knows that a tweak in the DNA of an embryo will materialise in every cell in the adult body. Including the sperm and eggs, meaning that the genetic changes, and any unexpected side-effects, are passed down to future generations. For many, however, the benefits far outweighed the risks.
Following the concluding recommendations made in the International Summit on Gene Editing, held in December 2015, research and funding in human gene editing research skyrockets, after technologies, such as CRISPR, are given a green light. Soon after, services offering gene editing on somatic cells (that is, cells that cannot be transmitted to the next generation) proliferate. A decade later, as the first country in the world, China legalises health related human genome editing on embryos. A year later, following lucrative genomic tourism, other countries follow. Startups providing embryo gene editing services begin to mushroom. By 2035, health related germline genomic editing has become a common health procedure among the wealthier sections of society. Debate on further enhancement continues, albeit with increasingly accepting tones each year.
The Nordic governments have decided to address growing genomic inequality and the extinction of original germlines in their populations by investing in research on the exposome and epigenetic control. In 2035, following popular demand, the Finnish government decides to look into implementing epigenetic control systems in the national health care services. The first children born with edited genes have reached the age of 10. Cohort studies show that the health and physical performance differences between them and their “non-edited” counterparts are substantial. Marianna and Sami have signed up to be part of a nation wide study for an alternative way to deliver genetically resilient children without gene editing. The Finnish government has launched a collaboration with a company that develops products and services that involve ‘soft’ epigenetic control mechanisms. The company is called New Natural. “It’s just like nature intended,” says one of the founders of New Natural at an interview for the Helsinki Times, when asked about their genome shaping services. “Pregnancy is an especially important period for epigenetic changes to take place. It’s the alternative. Without having to splice and remove genes entirely, their expression can be silenced or activated from the outside. This is how we’ve been shaped ever since the first proto-cell developed in the primordial soup. Control won’t be precise up to perfection. But close. Much closer than it ever has been,” she concludes. After the child is conceived, her family history continues to worry Marianna. And how she might pass the faults on if it all didn’t go as planned. If it didn’t work, after all. A long line of women with plants in their wombs. That’s how her grandmother used to call it. A plant. A growth that the doctors found to be growing inside of her. But it hadn’t spread, they could remove it. She was lucky they said. But her mother had the same, again. After all that research was put into understanding epigenetics and the exposome, the role of the pregnancy is much better understood. They say that whatever the expecting mother does during her pregnancy, will influence generations to come. The eggs within eggs within eggs. Like a matrioshka doll.