Now that scientists have mapped out DNA, can they start creating new forms of life, new insects, new animals, and other creatures that have never been thought of by nature before? Could this be going on presently in laboratories without public knowledge?
I don’t know if they can create new species per/se, but they can create Horrific and/or useful mutations to living embryos. If you don’t care about human rights, you could make a man with six arms in the future(they’re not good at mutations yet), or possibly create an asexual human(way off in the future), or other morbid mutations.
Our map of DNA is like a book in a language you don’t know: You can look at it all day, but you still can’t read it. We are gaining knowledge about the knowledge we have, usually by comparing the DNA of people with similar diseases (I think), but we are not yet at the stage of making controlled changes to genetic structure.
Short answer? No.
Long answer? Sure. Depends on what you mean by species. We could do some chromosomal manipulation to insure that a population of one species would be unable to interbreed with the rest of the species. At that point, according to current evolutionary thinking, the population would be a new species. Would it look different? Maybe.
OK, one thing people don’t seem to understand. Let’s say you want to create a six-armed person. How would you do that? There are no genes for “six arms”. What genetic engineering can do is insert genes from one species into another, or insert one genotype from the same species. I could insert a gene from an six-limbed insect into human DNA, but that’s not going to make a six-armed human. A gene produces a protein. Unless the metabolic cellular machinery already exists, that protein won’t have any effect on the organism.
So, I could switch on the genes for melanin production in a human, and give them dark skin. I couild disable the gene that prevents our body hair from growing, since we know some people are born that way and we could isolate the gene that causes the trait. I could even give them a gene for six fingers, since we know such a gene exists. People who inherit the gene are born with six fingers. But where will I get a gene to produce six arms? Genes aren’t blueprints.
Say I wanted my kid to be more intelligent. How could I do that unless I discovered an enzyme or protein that exists in smart people but not dumb people? We know that smart parents are likely to have smart kids, but we have no idea what the mechanism for this is.
And anyway, you don’t have to worry about mad scientists using genetic engineering to create monsters or circus freaks. How would you find a doctor to do such a thing? If it would be immoral and illegal for a doctor to create a trait through conventional medical means, it would be immoral and illegal for them to do so through genetic engineering. You can’t take your kid into the plastic surgeon to be turned into a circus freak, right? So you won’t be able to do this via genetic engineering.
Don’t jump so fast saying if you don’t care about human rights. There are many unanswered moral questions about ‘tampering’ with the human genetic code. Such modifications might have to be made if we are to one day start exploring other planets and stars. Such trips might not be possible w/o it.
Depending on your definition of “species”, not only can humans create new species already, but we’ve been doing so for thousands of years. All the old textbooks list “dog” as Canis familiaris, and wolf as Canis lupus (modern sources usually call “dog” a subspecies of “wolf”, Canis lupus familiaris). By the old definition, then, we created a new species when we selectively bred wolves into dogs.
Genetic manipulation isn’t anything new; all that’s new is that now we have some clue what we’re doing.