The CRISPR, or CRISPR-Cas9, gene editing method is a newly developed biomedical technology designed for the purpose of systematically altering the DNA of living organisms, with the goal of preventatively replacing unwanted genetic traits with desirable ones. As you may imagine, this sort of strategic gene modification is extremely powerful, and could have profound implications on human society if implemented.
How does it work?
The biological makeup of living organisms (like humans) is more or less determined by the information encoded in DNA molecules. Roughly speaking the CRISPR-Cas9 technology is a method for “cutting-and-pasting” within DNA molecules; it allows biomedical engineers to strategically “cut away” certain undesired portions of DNA molecules using a CRISPR-associated (or Cas) enzyme, and subsequently replace these removed portions with new ones that encode more desirable genetic traits.
Positive impacts. For instance, CRISPR-Cas9 may be used to alter the DNA of an unborn human baby to remove genetic defects that could result in defects or disorders if left unaltered. Of course, these changes could have tremendous positive impacts on human lives, eliminating potentially life-threatening or otherwise damaging conditions before a person is even born.
Negative impacts. On the other hand, this technology may also be abused to make alterations that are less “necessary.” Such alterations may be used to modify aspects of an unborn baby that are in some sense undesirable, but not necessarily issues healthwise. For example, parents may wish to use CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to change their child’s eye color, height, frame, etc. according to their preferences. Children on which such modifications have been made are sometimes referred to as designer babies.
The future of CRISPR
Ethical concerns. Personally, I think the idea of “custom-designing” babies prior to their birth is extremely unethical. If used for this purpose, CRISPR could very well become a luxury used by the rich and powerful to make their children smarter, more attractive, and healthier than others. Would this eliminate possibilities for those not born into such advantageous circumstances? There already exists an uneven playing field for the lower and middle class in the competition for education and jobs, seeing as their upper class peers have financial privileges. How much can this disadvantage be amplified if these peers are also privileged genetically?
Healthcare concerns. A major political issue lying in the future of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing method is the issue of healthcare. Under our current healthcare system, any person having a medical emergency is entitled to immediate medical attention and treatment, with no questions asked; financial matters regarding that treatment are handled afterward. If CRISPR-Cas9 becomes a widely available medical resource, should the same protocol apply? Namely, should unborn children having genetic defects preventable via CRISPR-Cas9 be granted this treatment, with no questions asked? With the rising popularity of this technology, these issues will likely come to the forefront of political discussions; I wouldn’t be surprised if politicians’ stances on CRISPR became major points of debate in future elections.
Aparna Vidyasagar. “What Is CRISPR?” Live Science, Live Science, 21 Apr. 2018, www.livescience.com/58790-crispr-explained.html.
Genetics Home Reference. “What Are Genome Editing and CRISPR-Cas9?” Genetics Home Reference, U.S. Department of Health & Human Sciences, 14 May 2019, ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/genomicresearch/genomeediting.
“INVESTED DIGITAL.” Crisprtx.Com, 2019, www.crisprtx.com/.
“Questions and Answers about CRISPR.” Broad Institute, 4 Aug. 2018, www.broadinstitute.org/what-broad/areas-focus/project-spotlight/questions-and-answers-about-crispr.
Wikipedia Contributors. “CRISPR.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CRISPR.