You Should Know: CRISPR

Something amazing is happening right now. #CRISPR is being tested, and is already starting to save lives. The technique is in its infancy, but if it works, it could lead to entirely new fields of medicine, as it enables a level of medical care previously only imagined in science fiction.

CRISPR is the name given to the process by which living bacteria edit their genetic structure, and swap out genes with other living bacteria. It’s how they evolve immunity to antibiotics so quickly. Having finally figured out the basics of how it works, scientists are now trying to apply it to humans.

Imagine being able to engineer humans who don’t require vaccination — because they’re born immune to the prevalent diseases of the time. Imagine being able to safely eliminate tumor cells with a method that leaves normal cells alone. Diabetic? Let’s fix that pancreas. Injured? Let’s reactivate the genes that allow for regeneration (we have them; our livers regenerate, in a limited fashion).

There are dark possibilities with this kind of capability. There’s no denying that. Want to ensure that all babies are born with blue eyes and blond hair? That would be possible.

Before “1984,” there was “Brave New World,” in which classifications of human being are created with specialized, often broadly diminished, physical and mental capacity, specifically engineered to fill specific functions. An early example in the book was that of a mentally disabled man designed to operate an elevator, without the intellectual capacity to do much more than that. Famously, George Orwell idolized Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, who reviewed 1984 and said that it was “very good, but when that future arrives, it will be more like Brave New World.”

That future is coming.

What’s important to remember is that, like anything else we’ve ever made, from the first time we picked up a heavy rock to break open a clam (or crush a rival’s skull), CRISPR is a tool.

It is a tool with great potential to do good, or to cause harm, but it has no agenda. It doesn’t wish us ill, and it won’t wreak havoc — not if we refuse to let it. The scientists who are presently experimenting with CRISPR are doing so with the goal of curing genetic afflictions and improving overall human health, wellness, and lifespans. It is up to the people at large, the responsible citizens of developed countries, to stay on top of this.

We need to watch. To marvel, and delight in the achievements of those who are working to improve our lot — everyone’s lot — in this life.

And, to make certain that this is all they’re doing. Not out of paranoia, or by being heavy-handed, or presumptive about what we know, but by making ourselves heard, tracking progress as it is published, and being absolutely clear on what will and won’t be accepted as ethical applications for CRISPR.

Overall, I’ve got a good feeling about this. I’m sure that someone, somewhere, at some point, will do something they shouldn’t, but this kind of treatment offers huge promise for eradicating infectious diseases… heart disease… kidney disease… diabetes… cancer… Alzheimer’s disease… and, potentially, down the road a ways? The aging process.



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    • Likewise; the discovery of CRISPR caught me by surprise. I knew bacteria did that kind of thing, but didn’t realize we were looking into it, or that it was something we could even imagine taking advantage of.

      I’m still looking forward to nanotech though.

      Liked by 1 person

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