Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Fate of Human Genome Editing

In 2015, scientists worldwide met in Washington to discuss the future of editing the human genome. Sparked by the growing availability of CRISPR-Cas9, biologists met to discuss the possibilities surrounding the editing of the human genome, and whether this practice would be morally sound. The main point of contention: Should we be able to edit genes that are inheritable, therefore changing the gene pool of future generations? For better understanding of the moral matter, one must understand the abilities of the CRISPR-Cas9 technique.

CRISPR-Cas9 has the ability to edit the genetic code in the human germline (i.e eggs and sperm). CRISPR, or clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, in the genome are transcribed into crRNA segments. crRNA are guides for matching DNA sequences. When a specific gene is located by the system being guided, the Cas9 enzyme is binds and cuts the DNA, resulting in the targeted gene being "shut off".

When scientists from the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the Institute of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society of London met in 2015, provided evidence that editing inheritable genes in the effort to cure diseases is not always applicable. Specifically, in the cases of cancer and diabetes, many different genes can affect the heredity of the disease. However, also presented at the conference was the case of Huntingtons in which genetic editing may be the only way to ensure that the child does not develop the disease. The meeting of the societies and academies was not to affect hard change, as they have no current ability to implement legislation, but to ensure that the practices are moral above all. The new technique and technology available today is like none other before it, and therefore we must proceed into scientific exploration with caution so as not to do more harm than good. The scientists opened up an important discussion in regards to the future of genetic editing and the future of our gene pool - a conversation that should remain open and be revisited often.

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