Vivek Wadhwa: The Smartest Dude In Silicon Valley
Gene Editing Is Now Cheap and Easy—and No One Is Prepared for the Consequences
|Secondary structure image for CRISPR-DR6 (RF01319). Nucleotide colouring indicates sequence conservation between the members of this family, with the red end of the spectrum labelling highest conservation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Scientists — and countries — with less noble intentions could again try to build a race of superhumans...... The DNA of every single organism — every plant, every animal, every bacterium — is now fair game for genetic manipulation. We are entering an age of backyard synthetic biology that should worry everybody. And it is coming about because of CRISPRs: clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats....... CRISPRs use an RNA molecule as a guide to the DNA target. To set up a CRISPR editing capability, a lab only needs to order an RNA fragment (costing about $10) and purchase off-the-shelf chemicals and enzymes for $30 or less........... Because CRISPR is cheap and easy to use, it has both revolutionized and democratized genetic research. Hundreds, if not thousands, of labs are now experimenting with CRISPR-based editing projects...... changing the human germ line is incredibly risky without much better knowledge of how our DNA actually works...... until recently, scientists thought that much of our genetic material was useless and served no purpose. They called it “junk” DNA...... research is emerging showing that junk DNA plays a key role in regulating genetic expression .....
What if a well-intentioned researcher develops a cure for one of these diseases and shares it with thousands of sufferers before realizing that the cure is far worse than the disease and that the side effects are painful — or even deadly — and easily spread from person to person?..... in the hands of evil biohackers, these powerful and simple tools are a cause for alarm.
A smart biohacker could alter the influenza genome, for example, to make it more potent, setting off an epidemic that kills hundreds of millions of people.Though a nuclear weapon can cause tremendous long-lasting damage, the ultimate biological doomsday machine is bacteria, because they can spread so quickly and quietly........ No one is prepared for an era when editing DNA is as easy as editing a Microsoft Word document. The government does not have any regulations on editing human DNA. The ethical concerns have not been fleshed out. There is no centralized risk-management inventory, listing which labs are doing what with CRISPR. It’s all rather terrifying...... the stakes in the case of CRISPR are so high that I believe a blanket moratorium is the only course..... such a moratorium could be as effective as the global moratorium on the cloning of humans has been: at the least, scientists such as those who engineered the human embryos in China would become international pariahs rather than being celebrated for publishing papers in prestigious publications.
Our most read post last month was by @wadhwa about the consequences of cheap gene editing. http://t.co/JyqKUY6EwT pic.twitter.com/MpLeKJWmRy— Singularity Hub (@singularityhub) October 5, 2015