NEW scientific technologies should not be used to create a master race of humans, a leading member of the Church of Scotland warned last night.
Dr Donald Bruce, the director of the Kirk’s society, religion and technology project, said advances in nanotechnology - which involves manipulating materials at molecular level - could be hugely useful in treating people with cancer and helping disabled people to regain use of their limbs.
But he warned against its potential to create a superhuman soldier or otherwise "enhanced" humans, who could be made stronger, faster and even more intelligent.
Dr Bruce, who was taking part in a debate being held as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival last night, told The Scotsman that "rules of life" should be developed to prevent this in the same way as sporting authorities ban the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
He said: "It’s important that we keep the distinction between what is medical and what is not medical."
Dr Bruce said enhanced humans could lead to greater inequalities between rich and poor and a world such as in the film Gattaca, where people are defined from birth by their genetic profile.
"A lot of this is to get some kind of advantage," Dr Bruce said.
"It’s a ‘Gattaca scenario’, it’s that sort of idea that existing inequalities that are there which just get worse."
However Del Stark, of the Stirling-based Institute of Nanotechnology, said scare stories - such as the potential of tiny self-replicating robots to turn the Earth into a mass of "grey goo" as the Prince of Wales famously warned - were largely misunderstandings.
"The institute is interested in how nanotechnology can improve people’s quality of life," he said, citing self-cleaning windows, clear sunscreen and socks that absorb odour as recent examples of what can be achieved.