Our Biogenetic Future: Cladistics, Bifurcation, Enhancement

With rapid improvements in biotechnology and bioengineering, we may reach a point where, for the first time in history, it becomes possible to translate economic inequality into biological inequality. Biotechnology will soon make it possible to engineer bodies and brains, and to upgrade our physical and cognitive abilities. However, such treatments are likely to be expensive, and available only to the upper crust of society. Humankind might consequently split into biological castes.

– Yuval Noah Harari, Are we about to witness the most unequal societies in history?

In his recent Guardian article Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, sees the possible nightmare scenario of a bifurcation in the human genome, the invention of selective artificial evolution of a superior species. The twist for Harari is that this bifurcation will instigate a new society and culture on the planet, one based not on racial/ethnic class divisions or economic inequality,  but rather on biogenetic eugenics and biological castes.

The notion of cladistics and clades have been around for quite sometime. A clade (from Ancient Greek: κλάδος, klados, “branch”) is a group of organisms that consists of a common ancestor and all its lineal descendants, and represents a single “branch” on the “tree of life”. Over the last few decades, the cladistic approach has revolutionized biological classification and revealed surprising evolutionary relationships among organisms. Increasingly, taxonomists try to avoid naming taxa that are not clades; that is, taxa that are not monophyletic. A monophyletic group is a taxon (group of organisms) which forms a clade, meaning that it consists of an ancestral species and all its descendants. The term is synonymous with the uncommon term holophyly. Monophyletic groups are typically characterized by shared derived characteristics (synapomorphies).

Continue reading