The most important technological discovery of our time is arguably; CRISPR (“clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”). Some would say it is the technology of salvation for our species. Other, including me, would say it could just as easily lead to our extinction. In humanities quest to create a stronger and healthier human we may have opened Pandora’s Box and set ourselves down the irreversible path towards the end of our species.
If you haven’t heard of CRISPR / Cas9 technology please kick the rock that you been living under over, because you must understand it’s power and implications. This is the single most important and dangerous technology ever created; more dangerous than even the Atomic Bomb. Here is a quick video explaining, in 60 seconds, its basic principals and abilities:
Sound great doesn’t it…be careful before you answer yes. Granted, if we can cure Cancer, Leukemia, Alzheimer or other devastating diseases I am all for it; and CRISPR does carry the keys to doing exactly that. If this technology was able to be 100% regulated and controlled to assure no abuse of it’s ability, it could absolutely be the most important life saving science ever; plain and simple.
To support this claim is start by illustrating some of the significant accomplishments of CRISPR so far according to 11 Incredible Things CRISPR Has Helped Us Achieve in 2017:
I am going to first list some of the good from the article:
1. This week, circulating reports about the successful application of gene-editing human embryos in the US were confirmed by a research paper published in Nature. The researchers “corrected” one-cell embryo DNA to remove the MYBPC3 gene — known to cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart disease that affects 1 in 500 people.
2. This year, scientists successfully used gene editing to completely extract HIV from a living organism, with repeated success across three different animal models. In addition to the complete removal of the virus DNA, the team also prevented the progress of acute latent infection.
4. The CRISPR method successfully targeted the “command center” of cancer — called the hybrid fusion — which leads to abnormal tumor growths. A “cut-and-paste” method allowed the creation of a cancer-annihilating gene that shrinks tumors in mice carrying human prostate and liver cancer cells.
5. Scientists also slowed the growth of cancerous cells, by targeting Tudor-SN, a key protein in cell division. It’s expected that this technique could also slow the growth of fast-growing cells.
These are amazing and exactly what a technology should do; it is hard to imagine the number of lives to be saved and the amount of families who won’t lose loved ones. Never before will so many be able to enjoy life free of diseases we could not image, even a decade ago, being so close to curing.
Then we come across the following in the same article:
6. Gene editing techniques have also made superbugs kill themselves. By adding antibiotic resistant gene sequences into bacteriophage viruses, self-destructive mechanisms are triggered which protect bacteria.
11. Last but not least, and on the macro-scale, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invested $65 million in a project called “safe genes,” designed to improve the accuracy and safety of CRISPR editing techniques. In addition to serving the public interest of avoiding accidental or intentional (cue ominous music) misuse, the seven research teams will remove engineered genes from environments to return them to baseline “natural” levels
Ummmm…..are you starting to see the down side. An organism able to kill itself with a self-destructive feature. Add that to DARPA now involved with editing safety techniques? It wouldn’t be remotely possible that a military agency would more likely be interested in better understanding and controlling a technology that could eradicate an opposing army, population or continent for that matter with syringes rather than bombs or mosquitoes rather than troops. The technology could easily be used to sterilize a population or decimate a race, color or creed. The creation of Military Super Soldiers would be easily possible; we’ve already created dogs with six time the muscle mass of other normal dogs and goats with longer hair, more meat and more muscle. I can hear you saying now, sure Justus, and this is the next generation of a weapon of mass destruction too (hold on, while I go get my tin foil hat) please read the following.
In The Conversation.com website article, Could gene editing tools such as CRISPR be used as a biological weapon?
Concerns are also mounting that gene editing could be used in the development of biological weapons. In 2016, Bill Gates remarked that “the next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus”. More recently, in July 2017, John Sotos, of Intel Health & Life Sciences, stated that gene editing research could “open up the potential for bioweapons of unimaginable destructive potential”.
I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you…yeah, I thought so, I know I’m right. So once again, everyone needs to wake up and understand what we are on the preface of. Even if we were to not focus on the ‘self destruction’ features of the technology what about the ability for the technology to let you pick the color of your eyes, your height, your weight or your abilities before you even born; a generation of designer ‘perfect’ babies. We could be the last of an inferior race of less than perfect humans. The technology now exists to get rid of our imperfections, we can all soon be carbon copies of one another and lose our individual identity to that which is deemed perfect and / or more appropriate.
According to Time.com in their article: How Gene Editing Could Ruin Human Evolution
CRISPR-Cas9, the new gene modification tool, which has been heralded as a means for inserting ourselves into evolution, is itself evolving as a technology, even as you read this. That technology itself can evolve means there is greater urgency for how we think of our biology: either as a machine (which can break down and get new spare parts) or as part of ecology (whereby breakdown is not necessarily bad and can be part of growth, renewal or reorganization). CRISPR may be used to repair a gene that has a deficient product, such as an enzyme or receptor, or alter code that merely suggests of risk. Ideas on how to use it change hourly. The method is here to last. The ethics will only get more fraught. But there is a bigger obstacle to the emergence of “designer babies” and Gattaca-type dystopian futures: the principles of evolution.
The warnings are already out there. With great technology comes great responsibility. Even one of CRISPR pioneers states in LA Time.com article: CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna struggles with the ethical implications of what she has wrought
One night in 2014, when CRISPR technology was first becoming widely distributed, she was jolted by a dream in which she was brought to see Adolf Hitler, who asked for an description of “the uses and implications of this amazing technology.” She lay awake, pondering how CRISPR’s “truly incredible power … could be devastating if it fell into the wrong hands,” she recounts in the book.
A pioneer in the field fearful of the implications of her own technology. There can be no more direct warning as towards the outright devastating impact of science used for the wrong purpose; a mass extinction event could be on the horizon.
We must stay awake, be aware, think with an open mind and be vigilant in the defense of our rights, our freedoms and our protection of humanity.