As we gain the ability to manipulate genes, will we be able to effectively hyper accelerate the evolutionary process?
As we gain gene manipulation capabilities we are, in fact, negating evolution not enhancing it.
Are we becoming the stewards of our own genome? Are we up to it?
We think we are, but there is a major issue yet to be resolved.
The gene may be the key to the protein but the protein is the key to the phenotype.
No gene fully controls a process. The resulting protein produced, in concert with other proteins from other genes, control the process and the phenotypic outcome. Altering any one of the required suite of proteins may alter the outcome.
Like a recipe for bread, substituting sawdust for yeast will disrupt the outcome but so would substituting motor oil for water.
But the problem gets deeper in proteomics.
Genes and their resultant proteins are used and reused in various combinations throughout the body.
We may find that altering a specific gene will alter a protein shape that would help in growing more neural connections in the cortex. Probably a good thing. But that same altered gene and its altered protein may disrupt the inter-cellular communication cascade needed to control testosterone levels in the testes leading to sterility. Not such a good thing.
Thousands upon thousands of proteins in various combinations leads to permutations in the hundreds of trillions. We have not even begun to understand the basic effects. Mapping the genome was the easy part. Understanding the proteomics of gene alteration is many orders of magnitude beyond that.
Until we fully understand the proteomics we are just in trial/error mode with major ethical problems in the question of devastating unintended consequences.
In my view, we will eventually get there, but we are looking at more than 200 years. Then the real ethical problems start. And no, imho, we are not up to it.
We can fool ourselves into thinking that the moth evolved by natural selection but was this natural? No!
The moth population changed in response to the environment via natural selection. The fact that the pollution was man made not withstanding. The light colored moths that could no longer hide on the tree trunks were more often eaten by the birds. The darker moths were less often eaten. The reproductive differential broke to the dark moths' favor and in a few generations the dark moths were the majority of the population.
This is evolution. Whether the environmental change was artificial or not, the result was a change in allele frequency in the population by natural selection.
In the issue of gene manipulation, the "selection" process takes place before the organism is conceived and is tailored a priori to fit the environment. Natural selection is precluded. This is not evolution.