Preventing species from going extinct by using CRISPR technology to protect them is a very new and interesting idea for me. I was surprised to learn that there are now only 42 bird species left in Hawaii when there used to be over 100 because of invasive mosquitos and their diseases brought by whalers (Specter, pg. 4). CRISPR could be a useful technology in saving the remainder of the birds by causing infertility in the mosquitos rather than using pesticides that would negatively affect the entire food webs and ecosystems of Hawaii.
I’m currently taking a course in genetics and not a class goes by where my professor doesn’t say “we don’t really understand why this happens, or how it came about, we just know it exists,” when talking about the mechanisms of DNA and RNA. This makes me think that it would be wise to “fully” understand a system before trying to manipulate it as is the case with CRISPR. Especially when it comes to manipulating germ lines that would carry on the traits for generations to come!
This reductionist mindset where we can justify altering the most fundamental code that is life, is putting us as a species in great jeopardy. We are currently in the greatest extinction event of Earth history, and as a species we are becoming more and more specialized. With increased specialization of a species, likelihood of surviving an extinction event becomes slim. If widespread CRISPR technology were used on human reproduction, we would lose variation in our populations also making us vulnerable to unknown threats. Sure, perhaps there would be less suffering in the world because genetic diseases would be a thing of the past but over 50% of bacteria use CRISPR defense systems against pathogens (Pierce, pg. 267). This means that though CRISPR is a powerful tool that humans only recently discovered, both bacteria and their viruses have evolved together with this system, and there must be some sort of virus mutation that is CRISPR resistant. I think altering genetic code is a too egotistical anthropocentric idea that we can “improve” the building blocks of how biology has evolved on this planet for billions of years.
Specter, Michael. “DNA Revolution” National Geographic, August, 2016.
Pierce, Benjamin A. “Genetics: A Conceptual Approach.” MacMillan Learning, 6th Edition.