CRISPR: Bending DNA to Our Own Will
Genetic engineering has been a hot topic in the 21st century. It definitely has it’s allure, however. The promise of removing all known genetic disorders and strengthening our bodies against viral infections and diseases such as cancer is an obvious benefit to humanity. This promise has also never been closer to being fulfilled.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, CRISPR, is slowly making science fiction into science fact. By observing a common protein in bacteria called Cas9 that filters out harmful strains of viral DNA, scientists discovered that the protein is easily programmable.
On top of that, Cas9 is unbelievably precise. The CRISPR system makes genetic engineering easy, cheap, and widely available to many parts of the world.
The system works on all forms of life. Viruses can be programmed to help our bodies, plants can be engineered to produce food with varying tastes in larger quantities and sizes, endangered animals can be protected from the very diseases destroying their population. The possibilities are endless.
In 2016, CRISPR was used in laboratory mice to try and reduce the amount of HIV cells in their bodies. The study effectively removed 52% of HIV cells from the mice’s organs.
In 2017, scientists conducting similar studies have reportedly completely eradicated the HIV cells from their mice, a very promising finding for future human trials. This finding proves the theory that this system can work on other diseases. HIV, herpes, and even cancer might be relics of the past, with the same urgency as the common cold virus.
Even genetic diseases can be edited out of the body. Parkinson’s patients could gain control of their own bodies again, hemophiliacs can be stunt junkies, an alzheimer’s patient could remember his granddaughter’s name; human life could go on indefinitely.
CRISPR has come under fire however as working a tad too well. The system brings up memories of the 1997 movie Gattaca in which (much like in a CRISPR influenced future) genetic disorders are edited out, children are designed at your local genetic technician, and the offspring of “natural” reproduction are treated as second class citizens as their resumes include their genetic defects.
This type of world is a definite possibility. The ease of CRISPR could create an economy based on, “Designer Babies,” or offspring that have had their genetics pre-planned instead of randomly chosen for you. Your child would quite literally be the best parts of you and your significant other.
Designer babies bring up many ethical and moral quandaries that could be listed out in an article by themselves. Is it wrong to decide your child’s entire livelihood simply because you could afford it? Sure, I cured my future daughter’s genetic predisposition to diabetes, but would it also be wrong to cure her astigmatism? Give her my wife’s straight hair instead of my curly hair?
What’s ethically okay, and who decides that? These are all questions that need to be asked the second techniques like CRISPR become commonplace, and that day is slowly coming.
So with all of that said, what do you think? Where do the ethics of genetic engineering end? Would you think genetic engineering is the key to humanity's survival, or are we opening up a pandora’s box we have no chance of ever recovering from?
Let us know in the comments and join the conversation.