Areeba Imran—McMaster Honours Life Sciences 2023
Should scientists genetically modify children the way plant biologists genetically modify corn? Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) gene-editing makes this a reality to take into consideration. This technology has the ability to edit human genomes to alter DNA sequences and consequently change gene function. (1) It does this by inserting cuts or breaks of DNA to disturb the natural sequence of the human genome. (1) The changed sequence can then be programmed to trick DNA repair mechanisms into deleting unwanted genes. (1)
CRISPR has the potential to remove unfavourable genetic mutations that have burdened the lives of many children and adults. Examples of common genetic diseases are down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. (2) The root cause of genetic diseases, many of which have no cure, is in our DNA’s blueprint. As a result, people either live their entire lives suffering from their symptoms or die prematurely without the luxury of fulfilling their dreams.
CRISPR gene-editing has not reached its full potential in the medical field because of various ethical concerns and social implications. (3) One of the major concerns against CRISPR is that it is considered an unnatural intervention. However, the intention behind using this technology is no different from the reason we readily use prescription medications and allow other medical interventions like surgeries. The intention is to provide the best care to everyone, so they can wake up healthy every morning ready to turn their dreams into a reality. If used with the right intention, CRISPR has the ability to make genetic diseases a thing of the past.
The most significant setback to making CRISPR a readily available technology is its impact on our society. (4) Would it lead to a society where everyone strives to be similar? Will differences no longer be celebrated? With a gene-editing technology available, people may look into it as a way to mitigate themselves from unfavourable genes and lead to a more uniform society. In doing this, diversity which is currently highly celebrated, especially in countries like Canada, with its multicultural idealism, will no longer hold such value.
In addition to its various social implications, CRISPR can also be a promising solution used for vaccinations. (5) This may be very beneficial in today’s world, where the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives. It has been shown that CRISPR can engineer white blood cells to produce antibodies to respond to a disease like COVID-19 without exposing the body to the disease. (6) However, more clinical trials must be done before this technology can be used in this way. (5) With the COVID-19 variants on the rise and no foreseeable end to this pandemic, further research into CRISPR technologies may help vaccinate our population quicker and thus warrants our attention.
The question remains: Are we willing to overlook the drawbacks of CRISPR gene-editing technology if it means limiting the occurrences of incurable genetic diseases and future pandemics? It is important to realize that every new technology comes with its disadvantages, and investing more time and research may lead to discoveries on ways to limit these drawbacks. Do we have the right to stop technology from taking over our world, or is it our duty to advocate for these changes?
1. Vidyasagar A. What Is CRISPR? [Internet]. LiveScience. Purch; 2018 [cited 2021Feb20]. Available from: https://www.livescience.com/58790-crispr-explained.html
2. What You Need to Know About 5 Most Common Genetic Disorders [Internet]. Regis College Online. 2020 [cited 2021Mar29]. Available from: https://online.regiscollege.edu/blog/information-5-common-genetic-disorders/
3. Locke LG. The Promise of CRISPR for Human Germline Editing and the Perils of “Playing God.” The CRISPR Journal. 2020;3(1):27–31
4. Doudna JA, Sternberg SH, Rosa WDL. Opinion: Should we use gene editing to produce disease-free babies? A scientist who helped discover CRISPR weighs in. [Internet]. ideas.ted.com. 2017 [cited 2021Feb20]. Available from: https://ideas.ted.com/opinion-should-we-use-gene-editing-to-produce-disease-free-babies -a-scientist-who-helped-discover-crispr-weighs-in/
5. Bussler F. 3 Ways CRISPR is Used to Fight the Coronavirus [Internet]. Medium. Data Driven Investor; 2020 [cited 2021Feb20]. Available from: https://medium.com/datadriveninvestor/3-ways-crispr-is-used-to-fight-the-coronavirus-33 19eddd6906
6. Eatwell E, Maertens V, et al. Could CRISPR Create a COVID-19 Vaccine? [Internet]. BRINK. 2020 [cited 2021Feb20]. Available from: https://www.brinknews.com/crispr-and-the-fight-against-covid-19/