CRISPR - A Dangerous Game

CRISPR technology is going to change the world. It’s not a matter of if but when. I didn’t really know much about CRISPR other than that I thought it was some half-baked technology used to create designer babies or something. Well, I was kind of right, but it’s obviously so much more than that.

This is all very complex, so if you want to truly understand how it works I would encourage you to do some research of your own on the subject. It’s fascinating! Here’s how my dumb brain understands it:

When assholes (viruses) try to get in your club (your body), your bouncers (bacteria) bounce them. In the process, they snap a picture (CRISPR) of these assholes. This picture is given to your head of security (Cas9). Nobody fucks with Cas9. If one of these assholes has the balls to show up again, Cas9 will be ready for them. Cas9 never forgets a face.

That whole process is something that occurs naturally in the human body. In 2014 Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier took this concept and created a tool that allowed scientist to edit DNA. It was kind of a big deal and they both received Nobel Prizes in 2020 for it.

Four years after Doudna and Charpentier had their breakthrough, a Chinese scientist named He Jainkui used it to “create” what would be the world’s first designer babies (twin girls). When the girls were embryos, a gene that produces a receptor for the virus that causes AIDs was discovered. Jainkui used this technology to remove that gene, ultimately eliminating the risk to the unborn babies. (He was later imprisoned for illegal medical practices because of this).

He Jiankui

A woman in Mississippi, Victoria Gray, “was effectively cured last year by removing some of her stem cells and editing them with CRISPR.”

This is world-changing stuff, but it raises some serious concerns…

Right now this revolutionary technology is being used for the right reasons. By that I mean preventing disease and just improving health in general. What concerns me is what happens after, once this technology has become common place and diseases like cancer and AIDs are forgotten. At what point does using CRISPR become irresponsible and downright dangerous?

What about when we start messing with things like muscle mass? Scientist can already do this with mice and cattle, why not humans? What’s to stop a country like North Korea from abusing this technology and creating an army of genetic freaks?

It’s also very likely that we’ll get to the point where we are able to improve cognitive skills as well. Intelligence, focus, memory, information processing. They’ve already successfully improved memory in mice, so we know it’s just a matter of time for humans.

It would be the death of meritocracy.

Not to mention this stuff is very expensive. Remember Victoria Gray, who was cured of sickle-cell? Treatments like that cost over $1M, which not too many people have lying around. And you thought inequality was bad now!

So the problem is pretty clear, the solution is anything but. For the most part bioethicist agree that this type of technology should be received for medically necessary situations. But then you have others, like Harvard gene-editing pioneer George Church:

I don’t see why eliminating a disability or giving a kid blue eyes or adding 15 IQ points is truly a threat to public health or morality.

George Church

Well, George, you would certainly benefit from CRISPR treatment because you sir, are blind.