Most, if not all of humanity strives for the next big thing. We are constantly evolving in different aspects of everyday life, so how is it surprising that we are achieving the same effect with our own genome? When the next step in our lives is at the door, we usually take it, but many people are hesitant towards the thought of that step being taken within the very thing that makes us human, and that hesitation is understandable.
Genetic modification has been an intriguing field of study, but now, in this moment, we can finally use it to allow more diversity in our gene pool. Along with diversity, we have the capability to attack the diseases that have plagued humanity for decades, and have gotten away with murder. Countless lives could be saved with a simple application of a technology known as CRISPR. There are others like CRISPR, but they are more expensive and less accurate according to “Is CRISPR Worth the Risk?” CRISPR acts as a genetic primer for cas9, a protein that seeks out the sequences of viruses in the human genome. The issues with CRISPR, and genetic modification, are linked to humanity’s most primitive fear-the unknown.
When we stare into the abyss it stares back, and when it stares back we fear what comes next. Will it ruin us? Make us better? Maybe something in between? With CRISPR there are infinite possibilities that can be tracked to one path, and that path is advancement; however, advancement comes with sacrifice. According to “For Confidence in CRISPR Outcomes, Results Must Be Fully Validated,” off-target effects are clawing their way to the top of the CRISPR debate. Off-target effects are unintended edits made by CRISPR. These effects can affect sequences in the human genome, and these sequences can cause deformity, and maybe death. With any technology, we must refine, experiment, and regulate the key components that makes the technology useful. The production and regulation of CRISPR is essential; in addition, it is imperative to continue experimentation regardless of public opinion.
Ethical debate has left the public in ruin, and from the rubble rises the fragments of perspective. The main fear towards this is of multiple flavors and colors. People speak of ‘designer babies’ when the topic of genetic engineering is brought up. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute’s “Genome Editing” article, the main issue with genetic engineering on humans is that the public fear the possibility of designer babies. CRISPR makes the possibility to design a child feasible, as the earlier CRISPR is programmed, the quicker the effects take hold.
This brings many questions to light: how are we going to regulate this? What will we break and fix? Would individuality even be existent? As stated before sacrifice must be made. We may be uncomfortable with the possibility CRISPR allows, but those possibilities lead to opportunities that we must not let drift from our minds. With CRISPR we will be able to save lives thought to already be lost to a sea of uncertainty. The medical implications, and eventual applications, would drastically change how fragile we are to disease. Further down the line of advancement, humans may be able to live on Mars without space suits, and that wouldn’t be possible without the tampering of the human genome. It seems that genetic modification may be the next step in our evolution as a species, but that does not shield genetic modification from the production line.
According to the second edition of S.T Nicholl’s book- “An Introduction to Genetic Engineering”, the main issues that restrict the progress of CRISPR link to the eventual commercialization of it. With anything new there is the possibility to reap profit, to fool the ignorant, and to sell sell sell! The only issue with this is that instead of money being the only thing at risk, you now have a life at risk. The regulation of CRISPR as a product must be overseen by an individual with insight on how CRISPR, cas9, and other variations of DNA sequencing work. Experimentation is already underway, and the most recent insertion of this topic in the media
covers He Jiankui. Jiankui was a Chinese scientist that worked at SUStech. According to CBS’s “Chinese Scientist Who Helped Create First Gene-Edited Babies Fired By University.” article, he was promptly fired for violating the basic ethical principles of science, sharing data, and furthermore experimentation using unjust means. Jiankui had a set of participants expecting children and used the female fertilized embryo for the application of a CRISPR program. This man is obviously not for the regulation of this technology, but he did perform supposedly successful results. Jiankui claimed to have made female twins resistant to the HIV/AIDS virus. Experimentation is necessary, and without the help Jiankui, and the eventual discovery of his methods, we may not have had such a jump in progress.
Progress, as mentioned before, must be regulated to benefit our species. Before the commercialization of CRISPR as a product, there must be further human testing. This may be difficult in ethical debate to justify, as it violates the protection of human life. Pandora’s box may hold genetic deformities, and death, but it may also carry the next step in our evolution, and we have to be courageous enough to take that step, that leap into the unknown. The abyss is staring back, it consumes our future, our minds, and eventually our lives. Learning why it stares, and in what direction will benefit in knowing what secrets it holds. Knowledge in this world means everything, and knowing our genome, how to edit it, twist it, and mold it, is imperative to our survival. If we let this opportunity slip, then that’s one giant step not taken.
Genetic modification is the future of our lives, and maybe even a continuation of them. There is more to learn from ourselves than any galaxy far away, and even with the technology we have, we will not live to see that galaxy, so why not focus on ourselves?
Tyler Royer is a student at Edison State Community College.