In the past decade, the development of a genome-editing technology mediated by CRISPR has made genetic engineering easier than ever, both in vitro and in vivo. CRISPR, which is short for ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’, is a family of DNA sequences found within the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. CRISPR is one of the simple yet powerful genome editing technology. These systems allow researchers to modify genes in living cells and organisms permanently and, in the future, may make it possible to correct mutations at precise locations in the human genome to treat disease due to genetic causes. In addition, CRISPR is now being used rapidly for diagnostic purposes.
CRISPR has made a great impact in the biology field. If this technology is used properly, many problems related to agriculture, human body illness, and also problems related to other organisms can be solved soon. Many scientists all over the world have shown great interest in the CRISPR technology. There are many discoveries done through this technology. However, along with huge praises, it has had its equal share of criticism for all the different reasons. There have been lots of cases of CRISPR scandals due to its illegal or unethical use.
Controversial Cases Related To CRISPR Gene Editing Technology
Here are some of the lists of the CRISPR related experiments that were criticized, which occurred in the last decades.
Back in November 2018, He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, shocked the world by creating the world’s first babies genetically edited with CRISPR: a set of twin girls, with third CRISPR baby on the way. The announcement has provoked shock and outrage among scientists around the world. He is the first scientist to use CRISPR to genetically edit the human embryo resulting in a live birth, defying the unofficial international moratorium on editing human embryos intended for pregnancy. The reason behind the experiment was to disable a gene called CCR5 so that the girls might be resistant to potential infection with HIV/AIDS. In a video posted to YouTube, he said, “The girls are healthy and now at home with their parents”. Sequencing of the babies’ DNA has shown that the editing worked, and altered only the target gene, he says. This experiment went through many controversies as the scientist was found to be violating state law in pursuit of “personal fame and fortune”.
2. CRISPR Patent Dispute
CRISPR/Cas9, a revolutionary gene-editing technology, was researched by Jennifer A. Doudna of UC Berkeley and Emmanuelle M. Charpentier of Umeå University, Sweden, in 2011 and 2012, CRISPR – Cas9. At the same time, although separately, Feng Zhang ’04 of the Broad Institute was working on the same problem. Then, Doudna published her work and applied for the patent before Zhang did, and her work focused on CRISPR-Cas9 in test tubes, whereas Zhang’s research focused on its usage in human and mouse cells. The inventors were having disputes centered on the rights to commercialize products developed by using the CRISPR–Cas9 system to make targeted changes to the genomes of eukaryotes — a group of organisms that includes plants and animals.
In a decision released on Sep 10, 2018, a U.S. federal court ruled in favor of Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, agreeing with a lower court that Broad’s patents for CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing didn’t interfere with a patent application from CRISPR’s other inventors at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Vienna. (Source)
3. Clones Made of CRISPR-modified Monkeys
In January 2019, Lead Chinese scientist Hung Chung Chang and his team had used CRISPR gene-editing and cloning to create monkeys that show some symptoms of depression and schizophrenia. Monkeys’ genomes were first edited using CRISPR-Cas9 to demonstrate sleep disorder symptoms by knocking out BAML1, an important circadian regulatory gene. The researchers edited multiple fertilized monkey embryos to recapitulate circadian sleep disorders. Then the scientists picked the monkey with “correct gene editing and most severe disease phenotypes” for cloning, according to Qiang Sun, one of the papers’ authors and director of the Nonhuman Primate Research Facility at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, in a statement.
Since animals are being used for the clinical trial, there are questions aroused for animal rights, and some researchers are against the use of animals in the clinical trial. (Source)
Of note, it is believed that human beings will benefit from genetic editing technology when and if it is applied to cure gene-related disease or build an effective remedy mechanism. Reversely, just like nuclear energy, it’s a two-edged sword. In a word, this also may bring a risk of disaster. Therefore, everyone should always keep the mind clear and alert to safeguard ethical considerations.