Just a decade back, Gene editing was not even a term. But with more scientific research and experiments being done with the technology at full swing, it’s a matter of discussion everywhere. All over the world, scientists keep discussing the opportunities and risks involved in genome editing. While, plant geneticists are successful to breed resilient, high-yield plants to combat famine, critics warn against the unpredictable impact of it on human health.
In February 2018, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in the UK approved a request by the Francis Crick Institute London, to modify human embryos by using the new gene-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9. CRISPR has become one of the most powerful gene-editing tools in this date, which can modify disease-causing genes in embryos brought to term- remove the faulty genetic code of that person’s future descendants as well. This is the biggest revolution in gene editing till the date.
Recent advancements seen in gene editing have not only introduced a number of exciting possibilities for human advancement but raised difficult ethical questions about building a “designer humans”. Today, let’s break down the pros and cons of gene editing.
The Pros of Gene Editing
Firstly, here are the advantages of genome editing technology.
1. Tackling and Defeating Diseases:
Most deadly and severe diseases in the world have resisted destruction. A number of genetic mutations that humans suffer will end only after we actively intervene and genetically engineer the next generation.
- Cancer Therapeutics: New immunotherapy can be developed using genetic editing that can treat cancer. Modification of T-cells using CRISPR can locate and kill cancer cells.
- Drug Research: Genetic makeup can potentially speed up the drug discovery process. Some of the drug makers are already incorporating CRISPR technology in drug research and discovery phase.
- Inherent diseases: With genetic editing, the scientist can prevent the inherent disease from flowing to the offspring. Diabetes and cystic fibrosis can also be eliminated.
2. Extend Lifespan
Genome editing could extend the human lifespan. The human lifespan has already shot up by a number of years, and we are already living longer and longer. Genetic engineering could make our time on Earth even long. There are specific, common illnesses and diseases that can take hold later in life and can end up killing us earlier than necessary. Genetic editing can reverse the most fundamental reasons for the body’s natural decline on a cellular level. So it can drastically improve both the span and the quality of life later on.
3. Growth In Food Production and Its Quality:
Genetic engineering can design foods that can withstand harsh temperatures and are packed full of all the right nutrients. Additionally, it could also be the answer to meet the heavy food demands that are still not met in many countries. We may also increase the medicinal value of our food and introduce edible vaccines.
4. Pest Resilient Crops:
According to Jennifer Doudna, CRISPR pioneer, “genome editing can address pest and nutrition challenges facing agriculture”. Instead of using tons of insecticides and pesticides, we can protect our plan in a healthier way.
The Cons of Gene Editing
While Genome editing has many benefits, it could also have many areas to be questioned. Such as,
1. Ethical Dilemma
Let’s start with the major objection- modification is unnatural and amounts to playing God. This argument claims, “natural is inherently good, and diseases are natural”. They believe that humans, by the millions falling ill and dying prematurely, are all perfectly natural. While living longer is already creating social problems today, what about the overpopulated earth after scientists remove all the disease in it?
2. Safety Concerns
Well, for a moment, let’s ignore what society or ethics has to say. Is it even safe to make changes at the cellular level? Slight changes made at the smallest level may lead to unexpected results. What if we manage to wipe out particular disease only to introduce a brand new and even more dangerous one? Experimenting in little life still in the womb could lead to complications, including miscarriage, premature birth, or even stillbirth- all of which are unthinkable.
3. What About Diversity?
Diversity in all species of animals is a key to evolution on earth. Genetically engineering our species will have a detrimental effect on our genetic diversity- as in something like cloning would. Doesn’t the future generation deserve to see the diversity on Earth as we did?
4. Rich people’s tool or For Everyone?
A Well known fact, gene therapy is costly. Okay, let suppose in the near future we could eliminate a child’s defected generic code. But what if only the very rich and elite could afford it and let the child of poor ones die. If this is going to happen, will genetic editing give “justice” to our society? Is the government going to pay for all the embryos of the poor family for genetic make-up?
Genetic engineering’s pros and cons give an idea of its results. Thus, many countries and laws have already been put forward to bring the best outcome. With proper laws and control over its usage, it will definitely be a huge gift for humankind.