Gene Editing: Biotech’s New Superpower

Bioethics is a muddy field to trek, embalming the intricate nuances of philosophy into rapid innovation. With recent advances – specifically the launch of genetic modifying molecular machinery known as CRISPR-Cas9 – the argument has officially exploded. Genetic engineering is not an entirely new concept though, genetic engineers have been able to launch novel genes into host cells since the 1970s. However, they are now able to cut and delete specific portions of DNA. Instead of blindly placing new cells into a host, scientists can now replace portions of genes and add entirely new genes in specific places. These techniques, known as ‘gene editing’ are much like our ability to delete, edit, and rearrange phrases in a word processor. 

Researchers have already begun to experiment with CRISPR-Cas9 on animals, editing a whole set of pig genes. They successfully produced organs that have fewer viruses, translating into safer organs for human transplantation. Gene drives have not been released into the wild yet, but it is an inevitable question that must be answered before the need arises. Mosquitos carrying malaria and Zika virus may be exterminated just by injecting a few with killer-genes (hostile), but this may cause irreversible and/or unpredictable repercussions that our ecosystem cannot bounce back from. 

The development of genetic modification cannot be stopped, but the way humanity deals with it is critical to the aftermath. Scholars in social sciences have pressed for ‘new governance paradigms’ that adapt instead of contest, include rather than select. Perhaps a societal reform of both mindset and relationship are what is necessary to allow genetic engineering to coexist with life. When we stand at the precipice of gene editing, we must be aware of the immense power we withhold from the rest of Earth. 

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