These ideas might seem like pie-in-the-sky fantasies, but imagining a future
in which we elevate animals and enhance their lives is the first step in
bringing that world into being. And it’s not just animals that stand to gain.
Indeed, we’ve already seen how technology can jump across species barriers.
The prosthetic liner designed for a cheeky dolphin ended up solving major
problems for human amputees. Some of the vision disorders that affect dogs
have close analogues in humans, and the gene therapy that cured dogs of their
blindness is being tested in visually impaired people. Optogenetics also
promises revolutionary new treatments for human neurological disorders. As
science advances, I suspect we’ll see more and more of this kind of crossover,
with innovations in the animal world inspiring breakthroughs in the human
one (and vice versa). In 2012, for instance, a team of Swiss researchers used
chemical infusions and implanted electrodes to stimulate the spinal cords of
paralyzed rats. The treatment helped the rodents get back up and running
again—literally—and it may one day do the same for paralyzed humans. By
enhancing animals, we may discover ways to make ourselves smarter and
stronger, faster and fitter, healthier and happier.
Biotechnology is not inherently good or bad; it is simply a set of
techniques, and we have choices about how we employ them. If we use our
scientific superpowers wisely, we can make life better for all living beings—
for species that walk and those that fly, slither, scurry, and swim; for the
creatures that live in scientific labs and those who run them. So it’s time to
embrace our role as the dominant force in shaping the planet’s future, time to
discover what it truly means to be stewards. Then we can all evolve together.
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