Hello and welcome to my GOA Catalyst Conference Web Page! My name is Avery Courts, I’m from Atlanta, GA and I am a senior this year. I chose to do my final project on Bioethical Concerns Surrounding Genetic Editing with a Concentration on CRSIPR/Cas 9. Hopefully students from my bioethics class already know what the CRISPR/Cas 9 technology is… But if you don’t, do not worry—it is fairly easy to understand!
What is CRISPR/Cas 9?
CRSIPR/Cas 9 is a brand new genetic editing technology. What this means is that by using the CRISPR/Cas 9 gene within the human genome, doctors are able to completely erase or replace mutations in a person’s genes. Here is a quick little video below that helps explain what this awesome technology is all about!
A Brief History of CRISPR/Cas 9:
1993-2005: Francisco Mojica was the first scientist to discover CRISPR! He was also the first one to name this type of genetics CRISPR.
2005: Alexander Bolotin was the first scientist to discover the Cas 9 part of CRISPR/Cas 9 genetics. He did this while he was working with bacteria!
2008: Luciano Marraffini and Erik Sontheimer discovered that this type of genetic technology can be used on DNA. Prior to this, the CRISPR/Cas 9 technology was solely used on RNA.
2010: Sylvain Moineau found that CRISPR/Cas 9 can break DNA strands. She also discovered that only Cas 9 is responsible for this action.
2013: Feng Zhang was the first scientist to actually use this type of technology on the human genome. During this time he not only used CRISPR/Cas 9 on human cells, but also mouse cells.
This is Francisco Mojica, who is famous for his research on CRISPR/Cas 9!
CRISPR In the News:
Just recently an article was posted on Thursday, April 19th, 2018 that reported that CRISPR/Cas 9 was now being used outside of cells (article linked below). This is huge news! This means that the multiple edits required to change multi-gene physical characteristics can be made! This means, for the good or bad, that designer babies and serious genetic editing is in the near future. This shows just how upcoming and new CRISPR/Cas 9 technology is becoming. It was so exciting to learn about this new scientific breakthrough while I was working on this final project!
The main bioethical concerns with this new type of technology is that it can go from just editing out genetic diseases to more commercial uses. These could include allowing expecting parents to choose their babies hair color, physical strength or overall intelligence.
While this may seem like controversies far off into the future, China has already begun treating their first patients with this technology. (Insert pictures from NPR). NPR reported on February 21rst that there were patients currently being treated with this new form of gene therapy. Many of these patients were seeing immediate positive results from the therapy.
With this type of medicine becoming more and more popular, designer babies are becoming more realistic. The main issue with this type of technology is how it will affect our society evolutionary and socially. How will our society react to only having some children genetically designed to be perfect and then some who are not. How will this change our self-worth? Will this affect the job market? Who will be able to afford these treatments? Will only the wealthy be able to afford this genetic altering? All of these are incredibly important questions but still remain unanswered since this is such an upcoming field.
These questions and concerns mostly touch on the Bioethical Principles: Beneficence and Non-maleficence. Beneficence mainly focuses on the fact that doctor’s should intend that only good will come to those through any treatment and non-maleficence mainly focuses on the fact that no harm should be brought to anyone who chooses to undergo any treatment. Beneficence and Non-maleficence are the main principles because we are currently unsure if CRISPR/Cas 9 will benefit the global population or cause harm. On one hand, CRISPR/Cas 9 could treat many genetic diseases and evolve the human race to be more “idealistic” version of our selves, and on the other hand, it could also separate our society even further than it is now by heightening genes of only a small percentage of the population making this population seem more “elite” than it already is. If you are still really interested in this inter-country competition, check out the original article!
I think that the CRISPR technology is fascinating and almost something like out of a science fiction movie! This new technology is so fascinating but I feel that this power could get out of hand if used in a wrong way. I feel that using this type of technology to cure genetic diseases is extremely beneficial to our society and should be continued. However, I believe that before we design any kind of aspect of a human, we need to internationally come together and create guidelines for this new type of technology. I feel that if we all came together as a species, we could introduce policies and regulations so that this type of technology could be used safely.
Interviewing and Expert:
While researching this topic, I thought that I should reach out to anyone that I knew that was familiar with the CRISPR system. During my sophomore year, I took genetics and absolutely loved it. Since my topic has to do a lot with genetics, I decided to interview my former genetics teacher, Mr. Morris, to see what his opinion was on this controversial topic!
- In your opinion, do you believe that we are going to actually be able to alter physical characteristics controlled by multiple genes (such as intelligence or athletic endurance) with the CRISPR/Cas 9 technology?
I believe that eventually we will alter polygenic traits. Doing so is exponentially more complicated than altering a single gene trait. The downstream consequences of even a single gene alteration are unknown, and those consequences would be farther reaching for polygenic alterations. Additionally, one would need to have a complete and accurate sequence of the patient DNA and be able to customize the alterations, as there could be any combination of genes that produce the same result in different individuals (heterogeneity). And finally, that would mean we’d be able to predict the interactions of those alleles in a given individual, let alone account for environmental changes. That all being said, complexity is not an impossible barrier, as increasing research and technology advances will make it more feasible. I think the most likely candidates for the first polygenic alterations will be cosmetic ones, e.g. eye color.
- Do you see the creation of designer babies as a threat to our society in the future? If so, what do you think can be done to regulate this type of technology?
I do think designer babies are a threat to our society in that they represent one of the clearest and most dramatic wedges that can be driven between groups. A designer child could be cleared of genetic disease, granted favorable characteristics (ability to handle stress, extroversion), nudged towards current aesthetic trends (height, skin/eye/hair color). Each of these traits are correlated with a longer and more stable life as well as increased earning potential. In this way, a family that is able to afford these modifications greatly increases the already high chances that their children will maintain or increase their socioeconomic status. Those that cannot afford (or choose not to apply) these modifications will be further separated from their peers. Inequality is a destabilizing force in societies, and in this scenario, there would be a class set apart not just geographically, socially, and economically, but biologically.
- Do you think that it is ethical to use this type of technology to go beyond just curing genetic diseases and use CRISPR/Cas 9 to enhance physical characteristics.
I think it is only ethical if it is available to everyone that wants it. Cosmetics can and do have real long term effects on individual’s ability to survive and prosper. I don’t have any objections to the practice on its own.
- In the future if this technology becomes more accessible, how do you think it will affect our evolution as a species?
Biologically, if CRISPR/Cas9 fulfills the promise of removing genetic disease and hindrance, our evolution will be driven by whim rather than necessity. Macroevolution for humans will be aimless or stagnant. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – with the ability to control our environment, there is no real need to change. I would like to think that a life of guaranteed health would mean further advances in other fields. Individuals would no longer be chained to medical bills, caring for a loved one, or limited in their own lives. Not everyone views their alleles in the same light: people can experience great spiritual or emotional growth dealing with a significant challenge. Healthcare will also change, as a proportion of our medical expenses are spent on life-long illness. I hope that these changes would free us to explore!
Thank you so much for reading my page! I hope you have learned a lot about CRISPR/Cas 9!
BBVA. Francisco Mojica. Frontier of Knowledge Awards, www.frontiersofknowledgeawards-fbbva.es/galardonado/francisco-martinez-mojica-2/. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.
Brown, Kristen. “This Gene-Editing Breakthrough Could Provide Hyper-Specific Cancer Diagnoses.” Gizmodo, edited by Gizmodo Media Group, Gizmodo Media Group, 19 Apr. 2018, gizmodo.com/this-gene-editing-breakthrough-could-provide-hyper-spec-1825389469. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.
Chemical and Engineering News. CRISPR/Cas 9. Chemical and Engineering News, 12 June 2017, cen.acs.org/articles/95/i24/CRISPR-new-toolbox-better-crops.html. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.
Gazetemsi. What is Personalized Medicine. Gazetemsi, 8 Feb. 2016, www.gazetemsi.com/kisisellestirilmis-tip-nedir-14061. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.
“Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas9.” Youtube, uploaded by McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, 5 Nov. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pp17E4E-O8. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.
Stein, Rob. “Doctors In China Lead Race To Treat Cancer By Editing Genes.” National Public Radio, edited by National Public Radio, 21 Feb. 2018, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/21/585336506/doctors-in-china-lead-race-to-treat-cancer-by-editing-genes. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.
Your Genome. What is CRISPR/Cas 9? Your Genome, www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-crispr-cas9. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.