A technology that could change your life with minuscule changes. One that redefines the idea of human evolution. First demonstrated in 2013, the CRISPR technology, allows scientists to delete undesirable genes and add desirable ones with great precision. But what are the implications of this advancement?
CRISPR can be used in both animals and plants to make them most fit for their environment. For humans, it can help cure genetic diseases quickly and precisely. Previously, CRISPR has been utilized to cure leukemia in two young children and can also be used to treat blood and immune system disorders. Editing harmful genes would not only benefit the individual the procedure is done on, but also future generations of their offspring. 7.9 million children each year, about 6 percent of births in the world, suffer from a genetic defect when they are born. CRISPR has the power to cure those children, saving lives. In addition, diseases would be cured proactively, saving huge amounts of money in health care. For plants, CRISPR can modify them to resist disease more effectively as well. This would alleviate the problems of food shortages, allowing for more families around the world to be fed. Between curing serious diseases through multiple generations and allowing for more plants to grow, CRISPR would save lives and pave the way to a healthier population.
Despite the efficiency and greater protection against seemingly incurable diseases, CRISPR also poses ethical questions and has faults. It could introduce mutations to the genome that might prove harmful in future generations. In addition, genes that cause incurable diseases, and therefore would be removed with gene editing, may have positive influences on human fitness. In addition to the health concerns, there are social and ethical questions arising with the increasing awareness of this technology. What kinds of traits should be added or removed? This technology has been categorized by the Food and Drug Association as a drug, so the FDA has control to regulate the specific applications of CRISPR on humans. When do we draw the line? Is changing the genomes of infants so their external characteristics will benefit them financially and socially, increasing their privilege, ethical? Some say that there is a need to differentiate between medical interventions and non-medical ones. Does this technology have the power to increase discrimination? Also, CRISPR could cause an increased conflict between scientists and the government.
CRISPR is not entirely a good or bad advancement as there are health benefits of curing fatal diseases, but ethical concerns also exist with this transformative technology.
Confused about how CRISPR actually works? Watch this short video to learn more:
Written by: Sara Siqueira and Puloma Katiyar