Opening a big can of genes

One interesting potentiality covered from the readings is Anthony James’s work with eradicating certain types of mosquitoes that are responsible for hundreds of thousands of death a year (Specter, pg. 1). If we did eradicate these disease carriers, that would obviously benefit many, but how sure are we that we know and understand the negative effects of doing this? Could we trigger a socio-trophic cascade, killing creatures down the line like frogs who might be eating the mosquitoes? And then that affects whatever eats the frogs, and so on and so on. From past examples we have seen in this class, unforeseen consequences can really, really suck to deal with (Berkeley Pit, asbestos, fossil fuels, etc). Thus we have a very hard question to answer due to a lack of information: how do we balance the lives that we will likely save by exterminating these mosquitoes, versus the potential drawbacks, which could range from potentially very little all the way to severely hurting entire ecosystems?

 

As for the question on should gene editing be performed on humans, this is something I would prefer to have 3,000+ words to answer, but will see what I can do in these confines. From my limited understanding of this technology, it sounds like there are germline modifications, i.e. modifications that will affect future generations, and non-germline modifications, i.e. curing cancer in a specific patient. There looks to be less risk with non-germline modifications, but when it comes to germline modifications, there are many interesting drawbacks to consider, and I want to focus here on moral considerations as I am less educated on the biological ones. I am going to pose some of these considerations as questions for the reader to think about and maybe respond to.

 

If a religious couple discovers they are pregnant with a homosexual child, should they be allowed to “edit” it to be heterosexual? Or the same question, but for a transgender child.

Should the wealthy be allowed to pay for smarter, more attractive, and stronger children compared to people with less financial resources?

If a black couple wants their child to have lighter skin and have more “European” traits in order to help their child succeed, is that ok?

If a couple found that their child might be genetically predisposed to favor a political side that was opposite to the parent’s (http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu/heritability_of_partisan_attachment.pdf), would it be acceptable to edit that predisposition to go along with the parent’s values?

4 thoughts on “Opening a big can of genes”

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog post on the future of CRISPR technology. I found it very interesting how you talked about the things that could potentially happen if people had the opportunity to genetically alter their future children. I especially liked your question about should the wealthy be allowed to pay for children with higher IQ or other characteristics that are desirable, whereas parents with less financial resources wouldn’t be able to afford the same things. I also thought it was interesting that you brought up a potential socio-trophic cascade issue if mosquitoes were altered or wiped out entirely. I think your title in particular captures the essence of the CRISPR technology debate. There are so many different issues and topics that are entwined with CRISPR, and it’s hard to look at one issue without looking at all of the issues. Awesome blog post, a really in depth discussion of the CRISPR technology, I enjoyed reading it!

  2. Morgan, to answer the questions you posed to us as readers about if gene editing should be allowed on humans, it is my personal opinion that those kinds of modifications should not be allowed. I personally think that if we were to ever allow human gene editing, I think it should only be for the purposes of preventing deadly diseases such as cancer and muscular dystrophy. Unfortunately, I think the debate over topics that your questions posed would ultimately hinder if not stop these technologies from being applicable to humans.

  3. I liked your discussion. For your questions though, hasn’t it been shown that there is no gene for transgender and homosexuality? So how would you edit these type of characteristics? I was thinking they meant more along the lines of, I want my child to have light hair and blue eyes. I think the idea of wealth is really important because it seems as though it would be a thing that makes the rich richer. I also question changing an individuals skin-tone, this is a crazy idea that I feel as though would to lead to anything good.

  4. I really liked your article. I thought you brought up the socio-trophic cascade and how it could be an effect from the cause of modifying the genetics. I thought it was interesting how they brought up the rights in the article. Who has them, the parents or the unborn child. I think if we were to dive into human modification it would be a down words spiral because who would want to control us the most? that’s right the government. And we all know what happens when the government has all the knowledge, they also have all the power. I think that it is wrong to play god because you don’t know the power you could lose to an organization that has the knowledge to change human beings. Like I said, you brought up really great points and i appreciate your article. The voice in it was very strong.

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