By Chet Yarbrough
Editing Humanity (The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing)
By: Kevin Davies
Narrated by: Kevin Davies
Kevin Davies (Author, Ph.D in molecular genetics, Editor of Nature Genetics.)
The famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard advised “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
He Jiankui (Chinese scientist who used CRSPR to modify genes of unborn twin girls.)
Kevin Davies reports the genie is out of the bottle with He Jiankui’s sloppy edit of genes in unborn twins. Davies suggests science will move forward on gene modification to provide understanding Jiankui’s inept genetic experiment. With that forward movement, Davies implies human extinction will be delayed, extended, or ended by genome experimentation. Proof of Davies conclusion is in Britain’s plan to create a government owned company to investigate genetic diseases and cancer in adults. The pilot project is to sequence the genomes of 200,000 babies according to a May 14th article in “The Economist”.
What remains a danger is that evidence of genomic abnormality is a first step to experiments in changing genetic inheritance at birth. There is a great deal unknown about what some call “dark genetic matter”.
What becomes clear is the potential for great good and great harm in the CRISPR revolution.
CRISPR-This is an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a tech tool that reads DNA sequences that are fragmentary and not normal. In identifying what appears abnormal, the fragments can be manipulated to repeat what is believed to be the correct DNA sequence.
With the discovery of base pairing and the DNA double helix by Watson, Crick, and the (often-unrecognized) assistance of Rosaland Franklin, the basis for genome editing became possible.
Davies offers a picture of Jiankui’s life. He was educated at the University of Science and Technology of China and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University in Texas. From a humble life in China, Jiankui climbs a genetic mountain to arrive at a cliff of science. One might characterize it as a cliff because a misstep in gene editing may injure or kill a patient and ruin a practitioner’s professional reputation. Jiankui became a living example of a practitioner’s misstep. Jiankui is serving 3 years in prison and has been fined the equivalent of over $430,000 American dollars. Davies notes the fate of the prenatal female twins is unknown.
Some would argue there are too many unknowns when genes are modified. As noted by Robert Plomin in “Blueprint”, the interconnection of DNA strands is complex.
Plomin notes the results of DNA modification are a matter of probability, not certainty. Clearly identifying defective genes and modifying their code to eradicate disease or mental dysfunction is presently beyond current science understanding.
Adding to the uncertainty of results is the potential for creating a radical human cohort that defies societal norms, e.g., the creation of a destructive or superior race of humans. An infrastructure would have to be formed to make decisions about the course of human civilization. That infrastructure creates potential for radical authoritarian control of humanity by a select group of minders.
On the other hand, DNA modification holds the potential for eradicating disease. The idea of eliminating HIV, and other viral diseases holds great promise for the future of humanity. The cost and benefit will only be realized through experiment. In one sense, it is like the experiments that doctors have taken since the beginning of medical treatment. Heart disease and cancer treatments have become better over years of trial and error.
DNA modification is extensively used in agriculture to increase field productivity by reducing disease in plants and hardening resistance to blight.
DNA modification opens doors to regeneration when threatened by species extinction.
The light at the end of this tunnel may be a train or a new day.
Davies’s underlying point is that CRSPR is here and will not go away. Experiment will continue whether condoned by government or not. All species on earth have a finite life.
DNA modification is a fact, not just an idea. It is here and will be used. Science is grappling with rules to mitigate its potential downside while trying to insure its upside. In the end, human survival will be decided by nature and the politics of control.