The dream of engineering ourselves comes closer to a reality every day. Let’s welcome the future with open arms.
Gene editing, a method of genetic modification involving changing the sequence of genes, has been around for decades.
But it’s been dangerous, expensive and difficult for most of its history.
However, thanks to the new genome-editing system known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), we can now modify genes much more easily and efficiently.
CRISPR (pronounced like “krisper”) is a new tool that has recently shown promising results by using sections of RNA, a modified form of DNA, to target locations in DNA sequences to be added, changed or removed.
With the ability to target diseases such as AIDS and cancer, this new found research offers fruitful advances in health.
But as we wonder what uses this research has, we also have concerns.
Is the technology safe? What consequences might there be? Are we going to see designer babies, offspring tailored to our genetic preferences? Would we still be the human?
It’s obvious there are morals and values at stake with these issues, and these concerns must be taken seriously.
In April 2015, Chinese scientists used CRISPR to try to correct for the genetic disorder Beta-thalassemia in nonviable human embryos.
Though only a few genes were changed, the research was not published due to ethical issues and scientists explained that CRISPR in its current state should not be used in clinical medicine.
Some say the benefits of using gene editing outweigh these moral costs. The Global Burden of Disease Project estimated 2.5 billion people, or about one-third of the world’s population died prematurely or were hindered by a disability in 2010.
And yet, the U.S. National Institutes of Health reiterated its restrictions on gene editing of human embryos after the Chinese study.
Though I am in favor of lifting restrictions to gene editing, I concede these “it has more benefits than costs” arguments miss the mark. These debates ignore the fact gene editing is still in its infancy for clinical use and using a method of science before it’s properly researched can do more harm than good.
Some people are worried about integrity for the future, but we’ve been worried about the future throughout history. We’ve aggrandized fictitious scenarios in which our scientific advancements will outpace humanity.
The beliefs that we will face dystopian futures are outrageously exaggerated. We’ve been modifying ourselves for a while now, and we’re nowhere near anyone employing gene modification to take over the world.
Besides, we have regulations for safety and informed consent of those involved in the research. There’s no need to extrapolate that we will wake up tomorrow as mindless robots, robbed of free will and virtue or even worse, completely extinct. Fiction will remain fiction.
Scientists from the U.S., United Kingdom and China will be meeting in Washington during the first week of December to discuss the future of gene editing.
But humanity has always been — and always will be — miles ahead of science.
Gene editing has a lot to offer, and, though we are still understanding its potential, it’s better for us to address issues as they arise instead while bearing our values in mind. We’re still human beings capable of justice.
Let’s not limit what science has to offer for irrational fears and worries.