Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Cut and Paste


There was an interesting BBC Panorama programme on CRISPR ('Clustered Regularly Inter-spaced Short Palindromic Repeats'- the very accessible and cheap technique for 'editing' genomes by cutting out 'offending' areas and putting other sequences in) that raised numerous questions (www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-36439260). There is no doubt that this 'democratization of gene technology' has many likely benefits including enabling scientists to eliminate genes that generate debilitating medical conditions; to generate non-rejecting organs for human implantation in pigs (they have organs of a size similar to those in ourselves); to drive parasite-carrying mosquitoes to extinction et cetera. It was interesting to note, however, that kits could apparently be purchased by anyone in the US for a few tens of dollars from a converted garage. The easy availability of the technology does, however, raise some questions. Not everyone using the CRISPR might be motivated to engage in effects beneficial to society or the planet. Objections have already been raised (on ethical and religious grounds) to the 'farming' of pigs to generate replacement human organs. It is also worrying that people might choose to eliminate species without fully considering their role in the planet's ecologies; to deliberately modify organisms to attack other peoples (in health or commercial terms) or to develop characters in 'show' animals (Crufts, here we come?). It looks as if we will just have to live with the fact that humans will be cutting and pasting genes for all sorts of reasons and it will be difficult to regulate.

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