This Technology Can Fight Cancer And Create Adorable Mini Pigs. So Why Are Scientists So Worried?

As any number of magazine articles and news stories from recent months have noted, we are in the midst of a major genetic revolution. Thanks to a gene-editing technique called Crispr-Cas9, it is now not only possible, but easy, cheap and fast, to change, delete or replace genes in any plant or animal, including people.

Scientists around the world have already used Crispr on a wide range of projects, from developing a kind of wheat that is invulnerable to mildew to stopping cancer cells from multiplying. This week, Scientific American shone a spotlight on China’s “bold push” into the world of genetically customized animals — and the mounting ethical quandaries that follow.

Using Crispr, scientists in China have created beagles with double the amount of muscle mass — the world’s first gene-edited dogs — as well as a new kind of goat, with bigger muscles and longer hair, among other Crispr-altered mammals. The work seems likely to rapidly expand. Minhua Hu, a geneticist at the Guangzhou General Pharmaceutical Research Institute and one of the beagle researchers, told Scientific American that genetically modifying animals is a priority area for the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Another geneticist noted that the Chinese government has allocated “a lot of financial support” for such efforts.

Humans have manipulated the genetic makeup of plants and animals for thousands of years. The beagle is already a product of human genetic manipulation. So are golden retrievers, cats, cows, the salad that you ate for lunch, and every other domesticated animal and plant. But Crispr is far more precise and efficient than any previous technique. As Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University School of Medicine, put it, “We used to have a butter knife, now we’ve got a scalpel.”

The ease —> Read More