It is known that a single error in someone’s DNA can cause the development of diseases and genetic disorders, but can this be prevented? In this article, the gene-editing instrument is described in a simple way for all readers to understand, after many disputed questions are raised. The main section of the article is based around the two sides of the discussion before a conclusion is made. This unique article considers the advantages and disadvantages of the device that scientists are hoping to use in Biological Medicine.
Although it is poorly known by the public, a type of genome editing technology exists since 1987. CRISPR was used less than a month ago on human babies. Considering the potential of this notable discovery, it is necessary to analyse if it is possible to use it in order to solve all of society’s problems. Due to its applications as well, some moral and ethical questions are raised. As technology is an advancement in many areas of society today, (in classrooms, for communication and Artificial Intelligence), this article handles the controversy of this topic well. Undoubtedly, it is clear that Medical technology maximises our lifespan and quality of living. Still, there is discordance about these future procedures, as they can be expensive, damage cells or organs in the body and machines are not always reliable.
What is CRISPR-Cas9?
CRISPR-Cas9, (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats– Associated Protein 9), can be used to edit specific genomes in order to remove the potential of an illness. The technology makes use of the enzyme Cas9, that is bound with RNA (single-stranded nucleic acid that copies DNA to make proteins), to identify and target a particular DNA sequence in the gene to be altered, and cut it. Cells take over after the DNA is broken and either replace a faulty gene with a healthy one or change the gene to make it behave differently.
Fundamentally, this engineering strategy alters genes encrypted in DNA in the body. Simply to ensure that human embryos are free from genetic disorders, and that all disease is banished. It is clear why people may want designer babies, but in some religions, trying to change the genetic characteristics of a baby is immoral. Just as machines cannot create humans, the same concept applies to the fact that technology cannot accurately modify pure characteristics. It just is not accepted in a religion like Islam, as people need to accept the way their children were born. The application of this experimental treatment has many safety concerns, and scientists will definitely need to make sure that they adequately address severe risks that this could lead to in the future. John Oliver from Last Week Tonight has concluded that gene-editing can do one of two things; either “eliminate all disease, or kill every last one of us.” This is like imagining CRISPR Cas9 being a household name, all hospitals using it, and if there was one undiscovered fault, everyone in the future generation would be “perfect” with an unidentified flaw. This concern will make people around the world reluctant before agreeing to the procedure. Perhaps CRISPR cannot please everyone in today’s society.
However, some might support this step forward in Biological technology. Extraordinary improvements can be made using the cheap and easily-used machine. Researchers, like Christer Nordlund, have uncovered evidence proving that a germ-line (cells of an individual that have genetic material that could be passed onto the offspring) can be continued through to future generations, after being developed from earlier cells in the sequence. If this is what solves all of society’s problems with health, then there would not be as many issues with illnesses, as the spectacular breakthrough would start to be used on patients, by targeting the nucleus of living cells. Another debated possibility is eugenics, which includes perfecting human conditions to make people more clever, beautiful and productive.
CRISPR can be used on plants and animals too. The possible benefits for plants is to make them resistant to climate change, have better nutritional value and grow in difficult conditions. In animals, this tool can be used efficiently to fix gene mutations in order to make them disease resistant. This could lead to huge progress in human health around the world, in the near future.
The advantages of this powerful technology do not outbalance the threats. After the manipulation of genetic code, we do not have complete control over the proceeding generations, but scientists and researchers are able to forecast what is going to happen. Risks with the system not responding to non-genetic disorders are also a challenge scientists have to accomplish and making sure that it is affordable for all. Prioritisation is vital, as CRISPR cannot be something used daily. The limited use will present the miracle effects in cases which have no alternative treatment. For now, CRISPR Cas9 can be used to solve one of society’s problems, and that is farming. Being used in animals and crops, bacteria and viruses can be destroyed while the food tastes better than ever.
- Nov 29 2017, Debate rages as first designer babies born. Available at: https://theday.co.uk/stories/debate-rages-as-first-designer-babies-born
- Introduction, What is CRISPR-Cas9? Available at:https://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-crispr-cas9
- Amemura, Ishino, Marino, Nakata, Shinagawa, Takase, Wachi, Dec 1987, CRISPR-Cas9 Gene editing, Osaka University. Available at: https://www.whatisbiotechnology.org/index.php/timeline/science/CRISPR-Cas9
- Jiankui, 30 Dec 2019, CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing, Southern University of Science and Technology of China. Available at: https://www.whatisbiotechnology.org/index.php/timeline/science/CRISPR-Cas9/60
- Muhammad Adil, July 31 2019, Advantages and Disadvantages of Medial Technology. Available at: https://adilblogger.com/advantages-disadvantages-medical-technology/
- Introduction, CRISPR. Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/CRISPR
- Jess Gormley, Dan Susman, Joseph Pierce, Noah Payne-Frank, Mar 28 2019, The biggest revolution in gene-editing: Crispr-Cas9 explained. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2019/mar/28/the-biggest-revolution-in-gene-editing-crispr-cas9-explained-video
- The Royal Society, Oct 2016, What is gene-editing and how does it work? Available at: https://youtu.be/XPDb8tqgfjY
- Mark Shwartz, 2018, CRISPR is a revolutionary gene-editing tool, but it’s not without risk, Stanford University. Available at: https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2018winter/CRISPR-for-gene-editing-is-revolutionary-but-it-comes-with-risks.html
- Greg Licholai, Aug 21 2018, Is CRISPR Worth the Risk? Available at: https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/is-crispr-worth-the-risk
- Christer Nordlund and Madeleine Hayenhjelm, 2017, The Rise and Risks of CRISPR/Cas9: Cultural and Ethical Perspectives on the New Gene Technology. Available at: https://www.umu.se/en/research/projects/the-rise-and-risks-of-crisprcas9-cultural-and-ethical-perspectives-on-the-new-gene-technology/
- BBC Bitesize, GCSE Religious Studies, Science and Religion, Gene therapy and genetic engineering. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zjw2fg8/revision/7
About the Author
Fabeha Shafaat is a Year 11 student at Bolton School Girls’ Division, an independent day school in Bolton, Greater Manchester, and one of the largest in the UK. Fabeha is currently studying for her GCSEs and will start college in September 2020, to study her A-levels, which will hopefully lead her to a career in Medicine.