Will Pigs Finally Fly?

Jennifer Doudna has called for a Global Pause. CRISPR CAS9 is her genetic engineering tool which has potentially changed the course of the future forever. The enormous potential for both good and bad that the technology poses, is being debated. ‘Can humans be trusted with the power that is genetic engineering?’. In other words, should we play god? A number of start-ups and countries are already looking very hard at this technology, but how do we, as the global community, regulate the developing research? How do we decide what path we want to go down? It is up to us to educate ourselves on this technology and voice our opinion. The world needs to figure it out, now.

WHAT IS IT?

Basically, CRISPR CAS9 gives the ability to find a genetic mutation, cut it and repair or re-design the DNA. CRISPR is also a gene drive, and once a gene drive is released into the ecosystem it replicates into every subsequent offspring.

PROs of CRISPR engineering

Evolutionary Technology

Cells are still a black box. We have little idea why DNA or RNA do what they do. CRISPR technology gives the means to find out, creating a means for the human race to further its development as a species. At this present moment CRISPR engineering can develop DNA research, make mosquitos malaria resistant and model diseases in animals. We are still years away from designer humans or giving pigs wings. However, with great power (technology) comes huge responsibility. This is no longer science fiction. Will everyone be safe and smart while conducting the research?

For example, could we accidentally release a genetically modified animal into the wild and disrupt the ecosystem? What about testing on humans? How do you do that ethically?

What are options for action? The globe needs to pause and discuss whether this technology could lead to unintended impacts and long-term implications. The developing research cannot be banned or stifled as that has been proven to lead to unsafe practice or being used wrongly.

The Utilitarianism Theory is “where the action that brings happiness to the greatest number of people, should be chosen.” It suggests if we can use this technology correctly and for good, to evolve further or just to better humanity, then development should not be halted, just heavily regulated.

group28pic2.jpgImproving Food Production

Improving the food production system would be of benefit to humanity. Our current food crisis is caused by the inefficiency of food production in the context of population increase and reduced land availability which is also detrimental to the environment. CRISPR technology in agriculture is attractive because of the potential economic and efficiency advantages.  For example, crops susceptibility to decay/browning. Consider this; mushrooms are sensitive to physical collision which activates browning enzymes. These enzymes accelerate the deterioration of mushrooms. In theory, we can engineer the activity of the enzymes to prevent the browning response thus removing the shortcoming of the crop. Critics of biotechnology in food, consider any form of genetic modification as likely to cause unexpected mutations, thereby posing a threat to human health and/or the ecosystem. The implementation requires much testing, development and global consideration before releasing any altered genes. By Kant’s theory; “for an action to be permissible it must be applied to everyone without a contradiction occurring.” Improving the quality and efficiency of food production in terms of the environment and feeding more people is a positive impact that should be seriously considered as a promising course of action.

CONs of CRISPR ENGINEERING

War on Humanity

Many scientific communities are conducting studies that have a direct effect on the progression and understanding of the capabilities of this CRISPR. As is the nature of genes, all of us would be affected by this technology whether we choose to accept it or not. But the main question here is will this technology doom us or save us? It should be mentioned that CRISPR has been classified as a weapon of mass destruction. It is postulated that (well into the future) gene alteration could lead to stronger humans who could be used as weapons in the wrong hands. A possible action to be taken is to ban any further human development in CRISPR. If we apply the freedom principle to the first option, we can conclude that progress of CRISPR will hinder the pleasure of living in a safe world.

group28pic1

Control and Patent Issue

Also to be considered is who will control this technology? Currently, the University of Berkeley (Doudna) and Broad Institute (Zhang) are in a major patent war over CRISPR. A patent will give the right to exploit the availability of the technology. A possible outcome is that the medical benefits of CRISPR might not be affordable. People with a lower standard of living will be at a disadvantage. In a futuristic example, the rich could modify themselves to be smarter, which gives an advantage in careers or education. A suitable course of action would be to assign a panel which supervises equality of integration, similar to the panel which supervises doping. If we apply the concept of Utilitarianism, we conclude that this solution will bring about happiness to the greatest number of people, since it will ensure that no one will gain an unfair advantage.

Lack of Human Testing

Gene research is currently being undertaken on animals. However; these results do not translate to humans and so there is the ethical dilemma of testing this immature technology on people. Before CRISPR can be introduced in human use, careful, long-term, interdisciplinary research with sufficient evidence of safety is needed. A consequential dilemma is that disadvantaged people may be exploited by reward to give up their bodies for potentially harmful research. This course of action potentially violates the Freedom Principle “where no action by a person must hinder another’s happiness”. The subjects for experiment might perceive they have no choice due to their destitution, and could experience detrimental side effects. Another option for action is to prohibit the testing on humans. Which protects human subjects form ill effects but inhibits scientific progress for the benefit of society. Applying the Utilitarianism theory the option of individuals choosing to be subjects should be considered as long as they are not under duress.

Conclusion

The global/scientific community has recognised that CRISPR poses an ethical dilemma. These arguments need to be discussed openly and wholeheartedly before further developments are made. It is up to us to make sure this technology is seen positively and is developed for good.  The future is knocking so loudly, it’s deafening. But a pause has been made. Will you contribute to the conversation?

Group 28: Maddison Fisher, Tao Song, Xinyun Zeng, Sahl Abdelsayed

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15 thoughts on “Will Pigs Finally Fly?

  1. CRISPR will be developed because the history proved that the human’s curiosity was never be prohibited. It is hard to get a conclusion which technology is good and which technology is bad. This kind of conclusion needs a long time. For example. even after hundreds of years of the industrious revolution, people finally found the burning coal for the steaming machine was a hazard for environment. However, after its contamination, the technology for energy got further improvement. In the case of CRISPR, it will definitely change our lives and perhaps bring the world some unwanted problems. But we may not be afraid of it since human has already make many differences for the world.

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  2. Despite how this technology seems extremely promising in a lot of different aspects, it still requires extensive human testing. Until this day we have not yet established a code of ethics (not that it’s ethical at all) regarding testing on humans, and so it’s a long way to go before we think of such a technology as a revolution for our entire species. Nevertheless, it’s extremely exciting, and I cannot wait to hear more about it.

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  3. Gene (is there an ‘i’ missing) manipulation/modification/adaptation (is it really engineering?) is one element of man’s (sorry, person’s) endeavour to understand his (sorry again, their) environment — space and its origins, the oceans, the earth and its systems, etc. This technology will be pursued despite how the ‘nay-sayers’ react (they will be there, as with everything else) and it is probable that controlling legislation will follow findings and/or implementation.
    Manipulation has been practiced for some considerable time, it is not new, only the technique is new. Consider the merino sheep, rose variations, the perfect tomato (the young would not have experienced the taste of a ‘real’ one and don’t forget the variety released on April 1st with the salt and pepper taste incorporated), apple varieties, and rice — there must be a lot of other examples.
    Will there be super humans, diseases cured/eliminated? Yes. Will there be evil consequences? Yes. The interesting question will be how will society restructure itself? How will we cope?
    Legislation, including Patents (not a fan), will have limited control — take crime (speeding, gangs, drugs, robbery, murder, domestic violence, bullying). How effective has it been?
    Evil, mistakes and unintended consequences will not stop man (persons) and progress. The course, while making it difficult for evil (defined), will not be stopped.

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  4. Despite how promising these advanced manipulation techniques seem to be, I believe there can be safer alternatives to tackle issues such as the food crisis mentioned. From a process engineering and a supply chain point of view, there are several ways in which food production could be optimized. The costs incorporated with the final product value are strongly influenced by the production costs (Includes utilities/efficiencies/taxes). Moreover, more efficient and eco-friendly logistics will mean increased availability and reduced transportation costs. Not to forget, among the most evident contributing factors to the food crisis is the enormous amounts of food waste around the globe. Rather than quickly resorting genetic modification and risking unknown consequences, research can focus on finding ways to redirect and utilize this excess food which is eventually dumped by wealthy nations, to those millions of people in need of it and hence halting this escalating food crisis.

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  5. Robert Fisher
    Monday 17th April 2017
    CRISPR research, activities and development of applications are inevitable. So, we will just have to learn to live with it.
    No doubt, some applications will be very beneficial to the human race, but others will be not so kind. As the paper mentions research could be heavily regulated. But how to do this?
    The international science community could not be self regulating, so some formal mechanism would be necessary for consideration, inspection and use of “sharp teeth” for rogue developers.
    Perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations; something along the lines of the mechanism in place to control and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
    It is certainly a moral and ethical issue worth of much consideration.

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  6. So far such technologies seem to be vague in and the with the information provided it does not seem that results are at all conclusive. With critical applications such as these, the technologies discussed require complete understanding even before being tested on humans, as the side effects can be serious. Everything comes at a cost; for every action there is a reaction. This can be observed from the simple example of global warming which was a direct cost of humans increasing the “efficiency” of various production processes..etc. What about when it comes to messing with the human genome or other aspects of our biology? Obviously extensive measures have to be undertaken to ensure safety and reliability and from what it seems we are not even close. The article started with mentioning how the DNA/RNA are still a mystery in various ways, then how is it logical or sane to manipulate stuff while being oblivious of the way they already work?

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  7. If United Nation are involved, we are not talking about ethical issues but also political issues. So the main question about CRISPR is not ‘Will pigs finally fly?’ but who is gonna make them fly?

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  8. Every innovative technology used in the research has both bright and dark sides. However, dark sides are usually ignored or not supported due to ethical concerns.

    Similarly, CRISPR/Cas 9 technology has emerged as a promising approach to fulfil the demands of the medical needs for diseases with unmet medical treatment. Genetic engineering had come into play much earlier than the emergence of CRISPR/Cas 9 technology. However, unlike the previous genetic engineering tools, Cas9 (a molecular scissor) is very specific with 99% efficiency, thereby eliminating the significant off-target effects.

    In every scientific discoveries, bioethical committees have played a significant role to keep the scientific research in check. For instance, in relevance to using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, an International Summit on Human Gene Editing held on Dec, 2015 in Washington agreed to take the basic core research to the clinical level only under strict ethical guidelines. They found that playing with the embryo or making genetic changes in the embryo that is hereditary, as irresponsible. As such, the Summit decided to start up an international forum to address such concerns and initiate strict rules and regulations across countries.

    It is very important to understand that scientific issues are always checked upon and are not allowed to proceed further if it threatens the well-being of the society. So, I believe that we should look upon the bright prospects of this technology rather than looking at the other side. There’s risk factor in everything, right? There are committees to take care of the darker sides, without whose concern, no research can move forward. So, why not embrace it.

    Just imagine the problems this technology can solve, ranging from creating disease models to its use in biomedical applications (targeting deadly viral diseases and antibiotic resistance genes). It has many other uses including saving the endangered species.

    Speaking of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a lot has happened so far.

    1. A tomato variety (Flavr Savr tomato) with a delayed ripening period was the 1st commercialised genetically engineered food for human consumption.
    2. Bt cotton is a GMO cotton variety that produces an insecticide to bollworms, thereby increasing its yield.
    3. Scientists in New Zealand and Japan has also tried producing tearless onions. Amazing, isn’t it?
    4. Enviropig: it was created from mouse and the bacteria, E.coli, for it to digest and process phosphorus better. The manure from normal pigs contain high content of phosphorus, which when used as a fertilizer can get into water creating water pollution.
    5. Web-spinning goats (created by Nexia Biotechnologies) can produce spider silk in large scale which is beneficial in number of applications.

    And many more.

    Thus, releasing a genetically modified organism into the wild isn’t actually a threat, but to help improve the ecosystem.

    And of course, human testing is a big step right now for this technology given the ethical concerns and if it possess more risk factors, ethical committees would never allow the technology to proceed further without any alternatives, which will thus help in the creation of innovative ideas for the well-being of the society.

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  9. CRISPR sounds very exciting, it can be used to treat genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, AIDS and cystic fiber, can also prevent infection and Alzheimer’s disease. It is precisely in line with the medical to reduce the pain of human goals, but also a major turning point in history.
    But, as the founder of Boston’s test-tube baby birth clinic, Merle Berger predicted, “Everyone wants a perfect child.” CRISPR may become a way for wealthy families who can afford the cost to design their perfect baby. Why do not you have a blonde child who may become a future leader or a scientist with a high IQ child? But is this depriving the child of natural birth right?
    If we can edit the gene at will, the world will be a lot less diverse and human rights will be challenged.

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  10. It’s indeed a dilemma for humanbeings to develop Technologies in order to change the world while wondering the side-effect of these new technologies for example shaking humanbeings’ supervision of the world.In the case of CRISPR, it will definitely change common sense and human’s lives. What we need to do is to find a balance between the convenience and some unknown problems both technical and social CRISPR will bring us.

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  11. Obviously, CRISPR Technology is a very convenient method, which can knock out some DNA sequences that we don’t want. In the future, maybe we can use this method to cure some human diseases, especially cancer. But before that, there still are many questions that we should solve. For example, a hospital in Sichuan, China, plans to knock out the PD-1 of T cell from tumor tissue by CRISPR. PD-1 can keep normal cells and tissues from the attack of immune system. If PD-1 is removed, the T cells might attack good tissues from cancer patients. It’s big challenge for us to solve this problem.

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  12. Look back the history of human, or more specific, human society evolution,all big evolution were made by the huge progress of technology, And they are unstoppable. I have to say the next evolution is based on the biotechnology and still it is also unstoppable. However what really matter is the attitude we hold to that progress.

    Just like the article mentioned before the global community call a pause and I would say that is a really good thing. Because we are aware of the cons and pros of this tech. And we want to take it real serious.

    I would give them a standing ovation for the pause and I believe after series consideration, they would come up with a better solution about how to use this weapon.

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  13. The developer’s ethical position is easy to define – to provide the safest, best and most accessible article for the public’s interest. The developer will have liability so he has a definite interest in the product’s safety. It has to be the best available or he/she will have wasted the research and development. The product needs to be accessible to many or it will not attract a manufacturer – it has to be good value-for money.
    A manufacturer’s interest is also easy to define – he/she must be profitable to survive within the general regulatory framework, to which he/she will/should be a major definitional contributor.
    The real ethical issues are how to deal with those who wish to limit or prevent it’s use. If it is on theological grounds – “interfering with God’s creation” – then recognize that all evolution is an expression of God’s creation. If it is a fear that it will get into the “wrong hands” and used to produce anti-social or criminal effects then recognize the ability of the human establishment to successfully combat these effects and that, as individuals, we are not our brother’s keeper. If it a fear that “only the rich can afford it” then recognize that, although this may occur at first, it will become universally available in time just like the cell-phone or computer, which few could afford initially. If it is “too powerful” remember that nuclear fission has found far more peaceful uses than violent ones.

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  14. Developments for CRISPR are currently underway and as mentioned in the blog pose a serious ethical issue. It is important to debate these effects before the technology properly develops to prevent potential disasters. As with all innovative technology the first to gain access will be the rich which will give the patent holders the monopole over the market. Should a set of rules have to be imposed on company with such power and responsibility who would control the panel, an organisation such as the United nations or separate governments ?

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