By Emma Russo

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       A door swings open to a large white room. Inside, a green translucent test tube, with a baby floating inside it, greets you as you walk into a vitro fertilization clinic. These embryos are being checked for genetic disorders, and when one is found, it can be targeted and ultimately eliminated. This new technology is coming sooner than you think.
       What is it that, in the near future, could be editing our genes as easy as editing an essay on a computer? The answer is CRISPR-Cas9. This new technology will soon be used in many laboratories, editing out little mistakes, creating a test-tube baby. This unethical experiment has been tested and proven to be unsuccessful, but it still may be able to come out in the next year or two. There simply is not enough time to fix every risk before this very new technology hits labs all over the world. Now, the burning question is, ‘Is the world ready for scientists to play God?’

“CRISPR, a new technique for editing DNA, is considered so inexpensive and relatively easy to use, we may be genetically engineering human embryos before we have time to decide if we should.”
From the Center for Genetics and Society

  This technology has already hit labs. It has been tested in China with non-viable human embryos, but The New York Times states, “Junjin Huang of Sun Yat-Sen University in China tried to correct a defective gene that causes blood disorder…embryos were unviable because of a fatal defect – it also demonstrated the possible dangers of the technique because of the many things that went wrong.” What if this student studying gene editing at a University in China was working with a live embryo? This technology, in principle, will edit disorders in the human gene pool; this will affect the baby, and in the future, the child’s offspring, meaning that if this went wrong, it could affect the genes in this family forever.
       And the reality of this technology is so near in the future that the Center for Genetics and Society is now involved, and they have their doubts. In fact, the Center for Genetics and Society states, “CRISPR, a new technique for editing DNA, is considered so inexpensive and relatively easy to use, we may be genetically engineering human embryos before we have time to decide if we should.” This means that specialists even agree that the real world may not be ready to face gene editing and the effect it is going to have on society.
       The Center for Genetics and Society continues not to back down on this urging subject. Even before the testing began, they realized that the future with gene editing could cause more problems than some people think. In 2014, The Center for Genetics and Society commented on the subject, saying, “But editing the genes of human embryos in order to create genetically modified people is very different, and raises grave safety, social, and ethical concerns.” This shows how much gene editing is going to affect our world, and the way we live in it, meaning that the concerns are real. Modifying our genes could and will push our society way too far into the future, especially when our world still struggles with accepting different races and ethnic backgrounds.
      This year, The New York Times touched upon this subject of editing genes. They spoke out in February, after the unsuccessful testing in China. The New York Times article, “British Researcher Gets Permission to Edit Genes of Human Embryos,” states, “A British researcher has received permission to use a powerful new genome editing technique on human embryos,…researchers throughout the world are observing a voluntary moratorium on making changes to DNA that could be passed down to subsequent generations.” This means that many scientists have been looking over what has been going on with British researchers and seeing the dangers in these experiments. They have also realized the reality that if something goes wrong with this experiment, generations could be affected. This puts into perspective the real risk that comes with this fast-growing experiment of using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit human embryos.
         On the other hand, if this technique, CRISPR-Cas9, does work, despite the belief that it won’t, it could do amazing things. It could possible take out diseases that we have not yet found a cure for. In The Guardian, Dr. S. Ramaswamy, the senior professor at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Bengaluru, states, “It is tempting to imagine permanently erasing of say, BRAC1, the breast-cancer causing gene from human genome.” And many would agree, it would be amazing and a life-saving experiment. But when Dr. S. Ramaswamy stated this, he also followed up by saying, “But the risk is too high. There are horrors hidden behind the banality of the term, ‘unintended consequences’.” This shows the amazing thought of permanently erasing these horrible diseases, but the reality just isn’t there to perform this experiment on viable human embryos.    
          Every experiment has many failures before it has successes. But these failures will consist of hundreds of possible dead and damaged human embryos. And many ask if we could lower the rate of failures and increase the amount of success, and the only true answer is to put more time into these experiments. And the Center for Genetics and Society has realized that by stating, “A significantly less expensive and easier to use technique known as CRISPR was first widely noted in 2012.” First of all, this technique is easier to use then others, but does it mean that it’s safer? Well, we won’t know until possible hundreds of failures will occur. Also, if this technique has just now, in 2012, been discovered, have scientists spent the time to try to limit the possible failures? They can if they do take that extra time, why rush this when lives are on the line? Therefore, to make this experiment as successful as possible, we must spend as much time that is needed to limit our risky failures and increase our success rates.  
         Even though CRISPR-Cas9 is new technology, is it setting us back in time? Are we repeating our history? Over time, animals have been adapting to their environment; survival of the fittest. And is that what we are going to be doing with CRISPR-Cas9? Even in human history we have seen this. In the early 1930’s, Hitler rose to power, eliminating certain races. And in a way, will we ethically be doing the same? No one will know until CRISPR-Cas9 hits labs across the world. And some may claim that we aren’t ready for this much technology. So, are we truly ready to play God with the power of CRISPR-Cas9? 
Photo Credit:
http://www.valuewalk.com/2015/05/mit-and-uc-berkeley-duking-it-out-over-crispr-cas-9/

1 COMMENT

  1. This is an incredible article. It is so well written and informative. The outcomes of using such technology is frightening!