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Don’t worry about humans gene-editing themselves and everything else. It will all turn out positive.
That’s the view of one of the scientists who created the CRISPR technology being used to create genetically modified food － and now － people.
Dr. Jennifer Doudna was quoted in an April article on the website Freethink proselytising for technology she helped invent in 2012. The interview occurred before the re-examination of the possible origins of the COVID-19 virus heated up.
A growing number of people, including some prominent scientists who’ve examined the virus, now believe it may well have been constructed in a Wuhan China biolab, using CRISPR. But so far at least, few in government or media are expressing outrage or calling for moratoriums on the worldwide use of such technology.
In the Freethink interview, Doudna expressed overall optimism that gene manipulation would be a boon, not only curing genetic diseases, but addressing climate change and even societal issues of “equity”. She expressed little concern about the possibility of unforeseen catastrophes.
Concerning the general impact of gene editing, Doudna spoke with mostly unreserved optimism:
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple teams around the world, including my lab and colleagues at the Innovative Genomics Institute, working on developing CRISPR-based diagnostics.
“When the pandemic hit, we pivoted our work to focus these tools on SARS-CoV-2. The benefit of these new diagnostics is that they’re fast, cheap, can be done anywhere without the need for a lab, and they can be quickly modified to detect different pathogens. I’m excited about the future of diagnostics, and not just for pandemics.
“We’ll also be seeing more CRISPR applications in agriculture to help combat hunger, reduce the need for toxic pesticides and fertilizers, fight plant diseases and help crops adapt to a changing climate.
“Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time.”
Doudna wasn’t asked about the possibility that COVID-19 was man-made. Nor did she address controversial gain-of-function and chimeric genetic experimentations in general, which were outlawed during most of Barack Obama’s presidency. A ban on gain-of-function research was quietly lifted in January of 2016, about a week before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office.
As far as the uses of gene editing for human “enhancements”, Doudna expressed only mild caveats:
“There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn’t. There’s always a gray area when it comes to complex ethical issues like this, and our thinking on this is undoubtedly going to evolve over time. What we need is to find an appropriate balance between preventing misuse and promoting beneficial innovation.”
She also suggested that gene editing was destined to be used to address far-flung problems, including climate change:
“The bio revolution will allow us to create breakthroughs in treating not just a few but whole classes of previously unaddressed genetic diseases.
“We're also likely to see genome editing play a role not just in climate adaptation, but in climate change solutions as well. There will be challenges along the way both expected and unexpected, but also great leaps in progress and benefits that will move society forward. It's an exciting time to be a scientist.”
The specter of editing human genes to address environmental, or even social and political “problems”, was covered recently in the Trends Journal article “Are Humans Already Being Genetically Legislated?” (8 June, 2021).
In avoiding the COVID origin “elephant in the room”, the Freethink interview allowed one of the creators of CRISPR to avoid the question of whether genetic experimentations had already caused a worldwide catastrophe.
If THE COVID WAR is any example, there’s far too much profit to be made and power to be gained from genetic experimentation, no matter what the outcome for the bulk of mankind, to stop now.
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