Should we bring back the wooly mammoth? Or edit a human embryo? Or wipe out an entire species that we consider harmful? The genome-editing technology CRISPR has made extraordinary questions like these legitimate — but how does it work? Scientist and community lab advocate Ellen Jorgensen is on a mission to explain the myths and realities of CRISPR, hype-free, to the non-scientists among us.
Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’
The future is going to be genetically modified!
That means the future could be disease-free with babies being designed in labs by parents who live in a world where ageing has stopped all thanks to genetic engineering. Or the future might be something else entirely with state-mandated genetic engineering to turn citizens into super soldiers. Who knows.
Gattaca is a movie that presents a vision of a future society where children are conceived through genetic manipulation to ensure they possess the very best characteristics of their parents.
Recently scientists developed a technology called CRISPR-Cas9 that allows DNA strands to be edited.
CRISPR allows scientists to edit genomes with unprecedented precision, efficiency, and flexibility. The past few years have seen a flurry of “firsts” with CRISPR, from creating monkeys with targeted mutations to preventing HIV infection in human cells.
The following clips give a glimpse into the technology we may use in a future where we, for better or worse, begin to engineer ourselves …
‘Immortality’ is a word that has great significance in human life. No matter what other achievements science can stake claim to (and there are many amazing ones, no doubt), the ability to control death is not one of them. Sure we have been able to extend life spans, but can we really beat death? Can man become immortal and can he live forever? It seems hard to believe that we can control the life-giving force. Yet, of all things that science will ever achieve, this could be the shining crown jewel. What will happen if and when labs get a hold of the ability to make us immortal and is such power even a welcome one, is a debate for another day. One thing is for sure and that is science will not stop trying. It might fail and fail endlessly in its quest to make man immortal. Time for our civilization and species might run out before we find out the answers. But the pursuit of nature’s biggest mystery- the secret of life and in essence, the ability to conquer death will continue. And here are a few alluring possibilities.
Nanotechnology to repair our cells: The idea is to have machines that use nanotechnology to flow through our body and repair our damaged and aging cell endlessly to ensure that death is never a possibility.
Biological Immortality: Researchers have been studying a species of flatworm that seems to have an amazing ability to repair its cells and replace the old ones with new ones that do not age. Could we make this happen in humans?
Cybernetic Immortality: The idea here is to try and transfer your thoughts and consciousness into the virtual world and ensure that you live forever as a virtual presence.
Immortality Enzyme: In 2009 a team of scientists discovered an enzyme that can effectively control and even reverse aging in human cells.
Learn more here.
The day when you can sequence your baby’s genome before it is born might not be too far away. Researchers have reconstructed the genome of a fetus without touching it. Instead, they used both parents’ genomes and free-floating fetal DNA, which circulates in the mother’s blood.
It may be at least five years before this type of test reaches the clinic and everyday use. By then, the price of the technology should have dropped. This current sequencing cost about $50,000 to perform.
The fact that it’s still a way off in the future is good considering the legal and ethical complications of parents having the ability to see every disease and trait their child will have before it is born. Learn more here or here.
In his Netherlands laboratory, virologist Ron Fouchier recently experimented with spreading the avian flu virus among ferrets. Ten generations later, the deadly flu has mutated into an airborne strain that could kill half the human population.
Fouchier, who conducted his research at Erasmus Medical Centre admits that the new strain is “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make”. He presented his work at the influenza conference in Malta in September. He wants to go a step further and publish his study in a scientific journal, so those responsible for responding to bioterrorism can be prepared for the worst case scenario. But the research has set off alarms among colleagues who are urging Fouchier not to publish, for fear the recipe could wind up in the wrong hands. Some question whether the research should have been done in the first place.
Typically H5N1 affects birds, but about 10 years ago it emerged in humans, first in Asia, then travelling around the world. Human cases are rare — about 600 total — but they are deadly, killing about half the people infected.
The reason avian flu isn’t more common is because it’s not an airborne contagion — at least it hasn’t been until now. With the un-engineered version, you have to touch something that’s been contaminated to get sick. But Fouchier’s version is airborne, meaning being in the vicinity of the disease and breathing it in would be enough to get it. Learn more here or here.
For the first time, scientists have created life from scratch (nearly)!
They made a bacterial genome from smaller DNA subunits and then transplanted the whole thing into another cell.
It’s the first self-replicating cell on the planet that’s parent is a computer!
What if mankind could purposefully launch space probes packed with little biological “starter kits” toward star systems that appear to have the potential to nurture life? We have lots of life down here, is it our duty to spread our seed amongst the stars? Read more here.
So should we try and spread life throughout the universe, seed currently lifeless planets with some of our bacteria to evolve. Or would that just be gigantic biological pollution. What do you think?
Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.
Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence.
The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.
Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size. Read more here.
Now, an Italian court has cut the sentence given to a convicted murderer by a year because he has genes linked to violent behaviour — the first time that behavioural genetics has affected a sentence passed by a European court. Read more here or here.
So basically, this guy has five genes (including the MAOA gene) that have been linked to violent behaviour, and as a result, the court thinks it is more OK for him to commit murder than someone else. It’s like the murderer is being excused for committing murder.
Does this strike anybody else as kinda strange?