You Look Good in Your New Genes

CRISPR-Cas9 technology offers a huge scope of possibilities. One that seems to have the most substantial and immediate benefit is altering the genes of mosquitos to either make them incapable of carrying disease or sterile. This technology, if implemented, would obviously improve, and save, the lives of millions of people every year. The Anopheles gambiae species has been modified so that it cannot spread malaria—surely an overwhelming good thing? Of course, there is a real possibility for the unintended ecological or human consequences that often accompany technological fixes. However, as molecular geneticist Anthony James says, “There are certainly risks associated with releasing insects that you have edited in a lab. But I believe the dangers of not doing it are far greater.” If these mosquitos were released, it would probably rank among the greatest human innovations in terms of lives saved. The same technology could be used with the opposite purpose in mind to introduce a new era of biological warfare, but as Specter points out, terrorists probably have easier ways of attacking people.

The debate of whether humans should use gene editing on humans is not a new one; I remember being asked to think about it in middle school. There are valid concerns that both sides offer as their argument, and there is probably no “right” answer. Personally, I don’t think I know enough about the technology to count myself as being on one side or the other, but I do think it will happen. Whether it will be government-sponsored research or experiments in illicit laboratories, I’m sure that the future will include some component of genetically-modified humans. Mankind has never stopped a technology from progressing once it was introduced, and I don’t know why CRISPR would be any different. If we accept this to be, well, not inevitable, but the future, then there must be some regulation, some agreement among nations as to what will and will not be done. One can only imagine the nuclear arms race applied to genetics, and the subsequent conflicts that have arisen globally over which countries are allowed to control the technology. It is a question of not should it be used, but what it should be used for, and I think that genes should only be taken out, never added, and only to prevent diseases that cause premature death or significantly affect the quality of life.