Joseph Mercola, MD is widely discounted for some of his radical views of health, nutrition, and causes of disease. Despite Mercola’s notoriety, he has been right more often that he has been wrong on many of his recommendations. Mercola published an article on his blog on Jan. 26, 2016 titled “New Gene Editing Technology Promises Most Monumental Advance of Humankind Into the Future”. Mercola is describing a new technology for gene modification that makes the human genome project worth the cost and keeps the medical ethicists up at night .
The new technology is called CRISPR and a recent refinement called CRISPR-Cas9. This is Mercola’s summary of where CRISPR-Cas9 can be applied.
CRISPR makes three categories of DNA alterations possible: embryonic modification to eliminate genetic disease; alterations to protect against future disease; and genetic enhancement of human form and function
The new enhancement to CRISPR is the identification of a modified enzyme Cas-9 that provides very precise cutting of DNA strands that allows extracting defective genes and inserting new genes for curing genetic diseases. There is concern that this technology provides the potential to create “designer babies” that in the extreme mimic the Brave New World vision.
As reported in the MIT technology review by Mike Orcutt on Jan. 13, 2016, pharmaceutical companies are forming ventures to create new gene level therapies for many drugs. The article is titled “Big Pharma Doubles Down on CRISPR for New Drugs.” Bayer and CRISPR Therapeutics have formed a joint venture to exploit the new capabilities of CRISPR Cas-9 technology. Two other companies applying the CRISPR technology are Intellia Therapeutics with a joint venture with Novartis, and Editas Medicine that is backed by major venture capitalists. Expect some major discussions and potential restrictive legislation with regard to altering human DNA at the egg and sperm levels.
Understanding the details of genetic engineering and the new developments in the field are not for the faint of mind. A YouTube video describes how CRISPR cuts DNA strands. The current state of using genetic engineering for modifying DNA at the egg and sperm levels is that China has admitted to using it on primates, but not allowed modifications of human eggs and sperms to be combined. The specifics of the implications of the Cas-9 enzyme used with CRISPR is also of interest.
The newest scientific developments in genetic engineering offer potential for solving major problems and for creating unknown and potentially disastrous consequences in the genome pool that may not be identified for generations. Like the GMO efforts in crops and food, there are many outcomes that are not desirable for safety of the consumers or for the environment. The goals of CRISPR Cas-9 technology developers are to reach a precision that will allow modification of genes within the human body. That is a monumental step in the ability to “play God”. Interesting times are coming in the field of medicine and medical ethics.