Advancements in science have always had the potential to create ethical dilemmas and the possibility of abuse or damage to humanity at large. The discoveries made in nuclear energy led to the hydrogen bomb, and to enhanced diagnostics of conditions in the human body. The recent advancements in genetic engineering have a similar impact. Joseph Mercola, MD 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 same technology that can potentially eliminate genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia and heart disease may be used to produce baby boys with blue eyes and long legs.
The new technology is called CRISPR, with 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. In the Brave New World, babies were conceived by a world government that created five different castes of people. The people in each caste were then psychologically manipulated to fulfill the requirements to sustain the organization and to maintain the world order.
China has genetically engineered monkeys at the single cellular level. Their goal was to produce a standardized monkey that could be used in medical research. Since monkeys are genetically highly similar to humans, it is a small step to apply this technology to humans. This is a summary by the Chinese researchers in what they were able to accomplish. The article is titled “Generation of Gene-Modified Cynomolgus Monkey via Cas9/RNA-Mediated Gene Targeting in One-Cell Embryos” and was published Feb. 13, 2014. The authors and their roles are contained in the article.
Monkeys serve as important model species for studying human diseases and developing therapeutic strategies, yet the application of monkeys in biomedical researches has been significantly hindered by the difficulties in producing animals genetically modified at the desired target sites. Here, we first applied the CRISPR/Cas9 system, a versatile tool for editing the genes of different organisms, to target monkey genomes. By coinjection of Cas9 mRNA and sgRNAs into one-cell-stage embryos, we successfully achieve precise gene targeting in cynomolgus monkeys. We also show that this system enables simultaneous disruption of two target genes (Ppar-γ and Rag1) in one step, and no off-target mutagenesis was detected by comprehensive analysis. Thus, coinjection of one-cell-stage embryos with Cas9 mRNA and sgRNAs is an efficient and reliable approach for gene-modified cynomolgus monkey generation.
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 Chinese article is an excellent summation of the various techniques that were used to achieve the replication techniques for the genetically altered monkeys.
The goals of CRISPR Cas-9 technology developers are to reach a precision that will allow modification of genes within the human body and in single cells. That is a monumental step in the ability to “play God”. As seen in the attached video, Chinese scientists have taken non-viable human cells and tested a procedure to genetically engineer a solution for a specific problem of adsorption of oxygen in the blood. These cells were not viable so that they could not have produced a viable baby, but the effort has raised major concerns within the scientific community.
With proper application, the new genetic engineering technology can eliminate or mitigate the most lethal diseases that exist today. The same technology could create an army of monsters with emotional characteristics to make them assassins. We have entered into a science that may be more beneficial or more dangerous than any prior discovery. May this intelligence be used wisely and applied to the benefit of all of humanity.