The Greater Good: Genetic Research on Human Embryos


The CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool hit the market in early 2012. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, a mouthful condensed as CRISPR, is a defense mechanism through which bacteria combat viruses, in a battle of atomic proportions, by altering the genetic sequencing of the invasive virus.

Researchers have contrived methods with which the CRISPR tool can be used to modify the genetic material of living organisms. This method of genome editing is far superior to previous methods such as Zinc Finger Nucleases, in that it is more precise, easier to perform, cheaper to acquire, and faster to conduct. From disjoining genetic disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s) from our genes, to altering the genetic configuration of mosquitos to reject malaria, imagination is the limit when considering applications of CRISPR. There is much to be said about the history behind this technology and Michael Specter of The New Yorker does exactly that in his brilliant article Source: Sam Gross, The New Yorker Cartoons

So let’s skip past the technicalities. Should CRISPR be used in the modification of human the human genome?

Both Nature and Science, the heaviest of heavyweights in academic journals, carried editorials on discouraging the research of CRISPR on human embryos. Any ill consequence of such research would result in public outcry, stifling an arguably already stifled scientific community. Furthermore, the very systemic ramifications of such edits are barely understood, and incredibly hard to measure, given the impact on future generations. While there are indubitable therapeutic possibilities, particularly in ensuring healthier humans, Lanphier and his colleagues at Nature argue that existing methods such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are controls enough to ensure healthy disease free babies. Science proposes an indefinite moratorium on such research until the technology is better understood. —> Read More