Genetic editing – a new era

There have been many moments in human history that changed the course of civilization and what it meant to be human. These were few and far between until the last 500 years or so during which we’ve had a cluster of inventions and discoveries due to a combination of science, imperialism and capitalism. Each of these seminal discoveries – transportation, computing, the assembly line, etc. – led to new eras.

A few decades down the line, I think we will look back at the time when we began testing gene editing as one of those moments. The Wall Street Journey had a story about how China, relatively unhampered by regulation, has proceeded with tests using CRISPR – the revolutionary gene editing technology. From the article –

Crispr, for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, serves as the immune system in bacteria. In 2012, a team led by scientists in the U.S. and Austria published a paper demonstrating how they reprogrammed a particular Crispr system to enable gene editing.

The new tool—called Crispr-Cas9 after the natural system it uses—acts like molecular scissors, letting scientists cut or repair DNA. In 2013, U.S. scientists used it to edit the genome of human cells in the lab. 

The technology is easier to use than other gene-editing methods and less expensive. Lab experiments have shown it can correct some glitches that cause incurable diseases. Crispr has spurred heavy investment and a proposed Jennifer Lopez-produced television thriller.

Rewriting life’s building blocks, however, is fraught with scientific and ethical quandaries. One: Crispr might make unintended irreversible changes in people that may not emerge for years.

We’re still in the day one of the CRISPR technology. What happens when someone moves past fixing genetic diseases to other traits? Could we edit babies to have blue eyes?

I am sure we will have plenty of ethical debates and standards around CRISPR.

That said, I am also sure it will change what it means to be human.