Future of natural selection

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. – Charles Darwin

Imagine if we were able to cure genetic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hemophilia and even AIDS. Technically, we have a technique to do that. But should we?

Scientists are studying a gene manipulation technique found in 2012. This technique is called CRISPR/Cas-9 (clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats). CRISPR/Cas-9 has been already used in many occasions and tests that have shown its potential in the medical field. This technique allows scientists to get inside plants, animals, even human DNA and remove or replace a small piece of their genetic code. This interesting, yet scary technique works by injections. The Cas-9 stands for an enzyme that’s injected to the body, and replaces the malfunctioning part of a genome. It can modify, delete or correct precise parts of our DNA.

Besides the good opportunities this technique brings, it faces a lot of social controversy since it also makes manipulating already functioning genes possible. In 2018, A chinese scientist and a doctor called He Jiankui shocked everyone by creating the first genetically edited babies. He claimed to have made a pair of twins HIV-resistant by using CRISPR. This caused a lot of questioning of morality, and since it was illegal he got a three-year sentence in prison. There were a lot of debates about potential consequences that might occur later. The twin girls are currently healthy but facts about their situation with HIV are unclear as he was never transparent about his work. His manuscript is also unpublished. He Jiankui was released from prison in 2022 and claims he’s going to do a comeback.

An fda-approved, gene manipulation technique that’s similar to crispr/cas9 has been used on a boy called Jackson Kennedy. He’s missing both copies (1 from mother, 1 from father) of a gene called RPE-65. This gene is important to the visual cycle. Jackson was predicted to become completely blind because of the lack of this gene. Doctors and scientists were able to fix this problem by using a gene manipulation technique called Luxturna.

Other CRISPR tests have been done on rats and dogs. Researchers in the Waymouth lab, assembled a certain protein from a firefly and delivered it into mice. Those mices now have the ability to glow, just like fireflies. Scientists have also been able to prove on mices that they were able to slow down the aging process. David Ishee also did this in his basement to a dog’s sperm cell. He did this along with his other experiments on his dogs in an aim to give them wanted characteristics and as he claims, to fix flaws that have occurred during 40, 000 years dog breeding. Another self-experiment with CRISPR has been done by Tristan Roberts. He injected himself live on facebook, trying to cure himself from HIV. The experiment failed and got a lot of negative feedback due to the technique being unfinished and potentially dangerous. In 2019 a research consortium called Target Malaria released 15,384 genetically manipulated mosquitoes in the village of Bana in Western Burkina Faso to reduce the spread of malaria.

If we can make rats glow and make mosquitos not so dangerous, can we also make humans with supernatural abilities? People have been designing themselves for ages: plastic surgery, makeup, gym.Technically it could be possible, but surely illegal in most of the countries. The Internet is full of tutorials for experimenting with crispr. There are packages you can order home that include everything you need to explore this technique. Also illegal in many countries. Some clinics that provide IVF treatment already offer the opportunity to the parents to choose an embryo that has the best genetic characteristics like certain eye color, sex etc. In the future they aim to be able to make so called “designer babies’’ hoping it becomes legal to use crispr to make the embryos even more advanced.

So, CRISPR/cas9 allows to change the DNA and cure diseases that have a genetic base. In the near future it has the potential to change our whole way of seeing life and evolution. The controversial questions about CRISPR remain, what are the effects to our environment, should it be in the hands of the public and lastly, can our future be defined by engineering and designing instead of natural selection and who’s profiting from it.

Taika Soihtu

crisprtx: gene-editing/crispr-cas9
technologyreview: The creator of the CRISPR babies has been released from a Chinese prison
Stanford: In a possible step forward for gene therapy, Stanford researchers made mice glow like fireflies
new hope fertility: designer babies
Netflix: Unnatural selection
Target Malaria:Entomological results from the first release of non gene drive genetically modified sterile male mosquitoes in Africa
luxturna:How luxturna works

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