Genetic Engineering
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Science and Technology

Genetic Engineering

What is CRISPR?

WHAT IT IS

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  • CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats [NatGeo].

  • There are two types of genetic "edits" or mutations: (1) somatic and (2) germ-line [National Institutes of Health]. It is important to know that:

    • (1) Somatic mutations are not passed down to offspring.

    • (2) Germ-line mutations are passed down to offspring.

  • August 2017: The first successful editing on human genomes in the U.S. was performed [NatGeo].

WHY IT MATTERS

 

Scientific developments often receive much attention in the media and public. Often, these technologies are not fully realized and will start to become functional decades later. It is critical for the public to understand what exactly the advancement is and what it could mean for future generations.

ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL

Against the law

Human germ-line modifications (using genetically altered embryos or gametes to produce a child) are banned in 29 countries.

 

 

Unintended mutations

Some worry about off-target mutations [NatGeo] (edits to the genome that causes unplanned damage). This could take the form of [National Human Genome Research Institute]:

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Dark side

As seen in the movie Rampage, starring Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, some worry that the technology could be used in dangerous ways.

ADVANCE AND EXPLORE

Cure

CRISPR could be used to treat or eliminate disease-causing genes, like Alzheimer's, malaria, and Huntington's [CBS News].

 

 

Natural can be bad

Some believe that not all natural does not mean that it is “good” for humanity. For example, if we protected all natural things, we would not use antibiotics to kill bacteria, practice medicine, or combat drought and famine [NatGeo].

 

 

Exploration

Some argue that keeping CRISPR illegal limits exploration and knowledge of all possibilities for the technology.

 

This argument has caused many countries, like the U.S., U.K., and Sweden, to give a "yellow light" to scientific researchers to explore [Science].

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • February 2018, Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in the U.K. approved an Institute in London to modify human embryos using CRISPR - the second-time human embryos have been used in such research [CNN].

  • If there are known diseases in genes, some chose to adopt children.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • Read more about potential ethical concerns about genome editing.

  • How might the genetically modified food (GMO) backlash relate to this form of genetic engineering? 

Key Vocabulary