CRISPR-cas 9, which stands for “clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” is the most prevalent genome editing technology today. It has the positive abilities to enhance fruit preservation, and cure genetic diseases, but it also has the controversial ability to edit the human genome, in any way the scientists would like, where no guidelines are set in place … just yet.
CRISPR works like a pair of molecular scissors, by having the ability to cut strands of DNA. The Cas9 enzyme (molecular scissors), is what targets the section of DNA that is intended to be changed, but is directed by CRISPR. Together, they work as one to disable, or repair a gene, or insert something new where the DNA had been cut.
The thought of genome editing may sound fascinating, but it also has a scary side to it. There has been talk amongst scientists and medical professionals of human gene-editing and the “talk,” is now becoming reality. Human gene-editing has many benefits that can arise, like curing of genetic diseases, however, none of this can be properly executed if there are no ethical boundaries for those using the technology to abide by. There must be ethical boundaries for those using CRISPR, especially when it involves humans, because the “talk” of editing human embryos has also sky-rocketed. Scientists like He Jiankui, have escalated this conversation by going forward with editing the embryos of what would be two twin girls, without any boundaries or guidelines to abide by. Scientists and medical professionals all around the world were shocked that this was pursued, and became even more infuriated when it was announced that the twin girls would be susceptible to premature death, and would have been healthy if the embryos were not edited. The conversation that also comes alongside human gene-editing, is “designer babies.”
“Designer babies” is a hot topic of concern within the science and medical fields in regards to CRISPR. A designer baby is a baby that before it was even born, had its physical looks picked out for them, instead of having their characteristics occur naturally. The scientist, He Jiankui, had initially sparked this. First, scientists are starting with gender choice. Who is to say they will not begin editing the eye, hair and skin color of a newborn. This is where a line must be drawn and ethical boundaries need to come into place. The characteristics of a human being are what differentiates them from the rest of society, and are naturally occurring from the process of life. When a natural occurrence in life is disrupted, there is always a consequence. Who is to say that if one part of the human DNA is edited to have blue eyes occur, that there will not be an off-target mutation (when another part of the DNA is accidentally changed) that could affect the child’s way of living a normal life.
If scientists have the ability to pick and choose the characteristics of a child, they are taking away the naturally occurring ways of life, while also going about these scientific ways without any guidelines. If there are no guidelines, how do we prevent scientists from going rogue and trying to clone people and endanger the human species? If we want to enhance fruit preservation, and cure genetic diseases, there must be a fine line drawn for ethical boundaries and standards. Although there have been three major conferences about possible ethical guidelines, they still are not clear. How long before it’s too late and another child’s life is affected because a scientist was “testing” out the system.