I watched a 60 Minute segment on a technology call CRISPR. They interviewed Jennifer Doudna who they credited with being the co-inventor of this process. What struck me about the interview was her dream. The host ask her about it she had any misgiving about her invention and she described the dream. In it she saw a silhouetted man who asked (from memory something to this effect) “Did you invent this technology?” She said that as she answered he moved out of the light and it was Adolf Hitler.
I know that every new technology brings with it challenges both moral and ethical but this technology seems to have the power to change our very beings. Could you share your thoughts on this? How powerful is this technology? Is the genie out of the bottle?
Ask AJ Roberts (December 4-8, 2017)
Hi, Jimmy, et al.
I think CRISPR technology will revolutionize the future, and like all technologies it has immense potential for good and for evil. I think the potential it holds is on the same scale as nuclear power and the potentially destructive scope is no less for CRISPR than for nukes. I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist (or the narrator that left me terrified of killer bees for most of my childhood) - but potential of CRISPR technology to be used to alter organisms throughout various ecosystems, as well as possibly one day humans, is real and currently the former is much more frightening.
Jennifer Doudna is, or at least has been, very concerned about using CRISPR with caution. In December last year a group of scientists from the US, Canada, UK and China met and discussed what self-imposed restrictions should be placed on CRISPR. Currently in vitro research in human embryos takes place in some labs in the UK, US, and China. The embryos are not taken beyond 14 days post fertilization and are never intended to be implanted or taken to full term. This in and of itself is an ethical issue for many people, creating embryos to study them up through 14 days and then terminating them. The 14 day cutoff was carefully selected as this is the time when cells are just beginning to differentiate and form neural crest cells which will eventually develop and differentiate into various tissues associated with the human nervous system. But due to this technology there is some growing debate as to whether or not to extend this date beyond 14 days, so more can be learned about early human development. This is an area of current concern.
The best human application for CRISPR technology is in somatic cells, and in individuals after birth. The DNA in somatic cells is not passed on to offspring, so changes remain limited to a particular individual. In this application CRISPR effects targeted cells only in that individual and may bring an end to many diseases associated with mutations in single genes.
There are still many challenges in using CRISPR this way including, how to target the CRISPR to the right cells, to enough cells, and to have it work efficiently in those targeted cells… working at the specific site targeted and not at any other off-target site of the DNA. There are a lot more challenges and I’ve written a few blogs on this and talked about it in some of our podcasts at RTB. I will post links to the podcasts tomorrow, but under “Additional resources” below are some links to articles on CRISPR. They describe the technology, many of its potential applications, and challenges, and raise some ethical considerations, and debunk some rather sensational speculations.
I’ve actually spoken on the CRISPR challenge a couple of different times (with RZIM in Peru and at the annual ASA meeting last year). And it’s something I care about quite a lot. So, thanks for asking this question. I think Christians need to be informed about this technology and engaged in conversations and in shaping policy that determines how CRISPR will be used in the US and what the government should allow and regulate in the agricultural industry as well as in the pharmaceutical industries and areas potentially impacting human health.
You can check out these articles on my blog, Theorems & Theology:
As promised, here are the podcast links, descriptions, and related primary research article links for topics related to CRISPR technology:
A team of U.S.-based scientists who genetically edited scores of human embryos to remove a disease gene say they’ve laid the foundation for trying to create the first gene-modified people. Shorter version (running time: 6:54)
Apologia Ep 35; Jul 2017 (time signature: 00:56–24:20)
CRISPR/Cas Gene Editing and Three Possible Human Health Applications
Can CRISPR/Cas gene editing help restore vision even when multiple genes contribute to the cause of vision impairment? Apparently, yes. By targeting two proteins that control an entire network of gene products, rod cells can be converted to cone cells and physiology signals restored. Other applications in fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria and human gut pathogens and engineering T-cells to fight cancer are discussed.
Apologia Ep 30: Feb 2017 (time signature: 00:00–26:20)
Interspecies Chimerism with Mammalian Pluripotent Stem Cells
Using the technologies of induced pluripotent stem cells and CRISPR/Cas gene editing will researchers be able to design and create chimeric animals expressing human tissues? We discuss the research strategy and findings, current challenges, and potential medical applications, and discuss ethical implications such as, “What does it mean to steward creation well through research and applications related to this study?”
Thank you for taking time to answer my question you have given me food for thought.