CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology is working to change the genetic building blocks of entire species. The risks are large, and the reward isn’t promised. Since its release people and agencies everywhere are jumping on the CRISPR bandwagon. Here’s the latest on the potential genetic nightmare.
What is CRISPR-Cas9?
CRISPR-Cas9 is a unique technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence.
CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences in bacteria. The sequences contain snippets of DNA from viruses that have attacked the bacterium. These snippets are used by the bacterium to detect and destroy DNA from similar viruses during subsequent attacks. These sequences play a key role in a bacterial defence system, and form the basis of a technology known as CRISPR/Cas9 that effectively and specifically changes genes within organisms
Gene editing is now outpacing ethics
Jeantine Lunshof, an ethicist in the Church lab at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Genetics, recently published an article through the World Post where she discussed the ethics of CRISPR.
“The current line is clear: embryo research in vitro can be performed until the 14th day after fertilization or until the appearance of the so-called primitive streak — the earliest cell formation of a developing nervous system, usually around day 13 — whichever comes first.” Lunshof stated.
She then explains that science is moving faster than the ethics currently preventing scientists from testing on humans.
She gives an example of spontaneous development that is typical of early embryos but has nothing to do with them.
“Scientists in our lab and elsewhere have observed groups of pluripotent cells, originating from human skin cells, self-organize into a cell cluster that then shows the features of a primitive streak. Is that an embryo? Probably not. While there are features in that group of cells that are like those found in embryos, the origin of the entity does not fit with our most fundamental understanding of an embryo as originating from an egg and sperm cell (in mammals). We do not have a name for this. In our case, after long deliberation, we decided to call these self-organized cell clusters “synthetic human entities with embryo-like features.”
Within a decade or two, researchers say, scientists will likely be able to create a baby from human skin cells that have been coaxed to grow into eggs and sperm and used to create embryos to implant in a womb.
The process, in vitro gametogenesis, or I.V.G., so far has been used only in mice. But stem cell biologists say it is only a matter of time before it could be used in human reproduction — opening up mind-boggling possibilities.
This is exactly what Lunshof was referring to. The guidelines are clear regarding human life, but scientists hungry to complete experimentation and compete with others in countries like China are finding ways around the guidelines. One of those ways being creating “synthetic human entities” to test on.
According to Wired, Crispr Isn’t Enough Any More. Get Ready for Gene Editing 2.0
“Crispr Classic will continue to be a workhorse for science in 2018 and beyond. But this year, newer, flashier gene editing tools began rolling off the production line, promising to outshine their first-generation cousin. So if you were just getting your head around Crispr, buckle up. Because gene-editing 2.0 is here.”
The article goes on to explain various advances in the technology, it sounds more like they are fixing errors and attempting to prevent possible mishaps in which gene editing could go horribly wrong.
Meanwhile, we have an ex-Nasa biochemist Josiah Zayner, personally editing his genome. Part way through a talk on genetic engineering, Zayner pulled out a syringe apparently containing DNA and other chemicals designed to trigger a genetic change in his cells associated with dramatically increased muscle mass. He injected the DIY gene therapy into his left arm, live-streaming the procedure on the internet.
“We have always been slaves to the genomes we have, and giving people the ability to change that almost changes what it means to be human. It seems so sci-fi and made up, but we’ve been genetically modifying humans with gene therapy since the 1990s – it’s just been very few people and for medical reasons. I want to help humans genetically modify themselves” Zayner says.
As if this all wasn’t crazy enough, DARPA, the US military agency invested $100m in genetic extinction technologies
A US military agency is investing $100m in genetic extinction technologies that could wipe out malarial mosquitoes, invasive rodents or other species, emails released under freedom of information rules show.
The documents suggest that the US’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has become the world’s largest funder of “gene drive” research and will raise tensions ahead of a UN expert committee meeting in Montreal beginning on Tuesday.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is debating whether to impose a moratorium on the gene research next year and several southern countries fear a possible military application. This wasn’t ever a fair debate, especially since the Gates Foundation Hired a PR Firm to Manipulate UN Over Gene Drives.
UN diplomats confirmed that the new email release would worsen the “bad name” of gene drives in some circles. “Many countries [will] have concerns when this technology comes from Darpa, a US military science agency,” one said.
The use of genetic extinction technologies in bioweapons is the stuff of nightmares, but known research is focused entirely on pest control and eradication.
Jim Thomas, a co-director of the ETC group which obtained the emails, said the US military influence they revealed would strengthen the case for a ban.
“The dual use nature of altering and eradicating entire populations is as much a threat to peace and food security as it is a threat to ecosystems,” he said.
Jeantine E. Lunshof. “Gene editing is now outpacing ethics.” Washington Post. . (2017): . . http://wapo.st/2CaLeSd
Tamar Lewin. “Babies From Skin Cells? Prospect Is Unsettling to Some Experts.” New York Times. . (2017): . . http://nyti.ms/2pFbxek
Megan Molteni. “Crispr Isn’t Enough Any More. Get Ready for Gene Editing 2.0.” Wired. . (2017): . . http://bit.ly/2zzOjpv
Arthur Nelson. “US military agency invests $100m in genetic extinction technologies .” the Guardian. . (2017): . . http://bit.ly/2zzI7ha