CRISPR, Public Misconceptions, and the END OF THE WORLD!!!!
All you have to do in this modern age of genetic sciences all you have to do is open a browser and type “GMO” or “CRISPR” to find a litany of amazing breakthroughs, advances and forward thinking ideas to help humanity for the long run. What you will also find is an abundance of people armed with keyboards and a gross misunderstanding of the science behind what they are so heavily opinionated about.
GMO ‘controversy’ aside (that would be an entire article to itself, short version is, they are safe, and there is currently no research that shows otherwise), the most commonly mentioned genetic technology mentioned today is the breakthrough of CRISPR.
CRISPR is short for Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats which in plain english turns out to just be a very early version of an immune system in bacteria. In short, the ‘technology’ was identified in archaea, and later in bacteria, consisting of repeating sequences of genetic code, interrupted by “spacer” sequences – remnants of genetic code from past invaders. The system serves as a genetic memory that helps the cell detect and destroy invaders (called “bacteriophage”) when they return.
If you would like a full technical breakdown on the processes involved in the CRISPR/Cas9 process: pop on over here, and I’m sure you will get far more than you bargained for. At least have a look at this if the other is TL;DR.
What brought me to the point of feeling the need to write this article was THIS article at the ‘interesting’ site, Liberty News Now.
Anytime an article on genetics starts with this loaded mess, you know you are in for a ride, and your skeptic bells should be jangling your brains loose. So, article starts with this image and the text “is the baby ready”.
Between 1935 and 1945 some 19,000 children were born as the beginnings of Hitler’s master race. Good SS boys were encouraged to “hook up” with blue eyed blond haired Nordic girls. The children born of such unions were placed in foster care or raised in special orphanages for raising good little Nazi children. If any of the infants were less than “perfect” they were killed or sent to concentration camps.
Fast forward to today. New Science reported, “A team in China has corrected genetic mutations in at least some of the cells in three normal human embryos using the CRISPR genome editing technique.”
No, you read that correctly, ‘author’ Jay Flickinger (emails should be sent to Info@LibertyNewsNow.com as it seems they don’t feel you should be able to contact Jay directly) starts out comparing the absolute life saving and world changing technology of CRISPR to mating experiments performed by Nazis. Okay, may be the ’50s era alien in a jar and Nazi comparison are just attention grabbers. I say this because Jay then cuts in to what CRISPR is and how it works. Well, sort of. He cuts a tiny segment of an article out and attempts to use that as an explanation of the tech. I would dare say you learned more at the beginning of this article.
But lets give Jay a chance to redeem himself, shall we?
Before CRISPR, Brazilian scientists desired a more productive honeybee. So, in 1956 they imported African honeybees to South America to breed this new strain. Some of the bees escaped and bred with different honeybees. Now the world has “killer bees.”
Okay, so again Jay is conflating cross breeding experiments with genetic research and precision gene editing. Strike two.
Presently scientists have no idea of the possible negative consequences that may be caused by CRISPR. There can be up to 150 unknown side effects.
This is untrue and a fear tactic that pseudosciences and conspiracy theorists use all the time. They want to make you think that the technology that is wildly unpredictable in their minds is ACTUALLY wildly unpredictable. This is faulty reasoning for two major reasons (and I’m sure a few other small ones), 1) no one has said this is a 100% safe, foolproof and understood area of research. Its not. That’s why its still being researched and why we want to understand it as best as possible before implementing it in the wild. Just like we did with Antibiotics and other healthcare methods. 2) Because something has side effects, or unintended consequences, it doesn’t negate the efficacy or need for the technology. Should we go slow? Should we closely monitor through transparent processes? Should we require high levels of ethical and moral review before implementations? Yes to all of these.
Next our buddy decides to fear tactic his readers some more with:
..Its potential for good is tremendous. That is, if we ignore the fact that we’re playing god with human embryos. Just imagine a world without cancer and birth defects. A world filled with happy, healthy people—a “master race” if you will….What if a government decides to weaponize these CRISPR perfect people? Let us return to the opening paragraph. Imagine for a moment that CRISPR technology had been available to Nazi Germany. It doesn’t seem a stretch to assume that Hitler would have employed this technology in attempting to create his master race. You know, a Captain America type soldier. On the other hand, what if one of the “off-target effects” creates a Resident Evil type monster? This is the stuff science fiction and horror movies are made of.
THIS is the bullshit that drives me up the wall. We have a technology that is capable of cutting and replacing a few, very specific, chunks of genetic code. If Jay had the slightest idea of how genetics worked, he would realize there is no small snippet of code that makes you 7 foot tall, or that gives you super strength, nor make you a 10 foot 600lb mass of tentacles. This LITERALLY, Jay, is the “stuff of science fiction and horror”. Maybe you should look up the word ‘fiction’ sometime.
While reading this article I was trying to work out the source of Jays fear, then he as if by magic, lays it out in the open.
What is meant for the good of humanity, in the wrong hands, is often twisted and used for nefarious purposes. There is no end to the evil intent of some. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5 ESV).
Bingo, a bible verse to explain everything! Men are inherently EVIL!! The bible tells me so. Not only does it tell us that we are irrevocably evil, it tells us that God MUST have intended for us to be that way. So, in this persons twisted world view, he feels that somehow his god created the entirety of the universe, then took special time out to imbue man with evil tendencies while planning to punish them eternally for a trait that he himself implanted… unintended consequences indeed…
True, people do often use things for the wrong reasons, make unethical decisions or a myriad of other things. But more often they use them for good.
On to what one would think would be the final blow of the article, ethics and morality!
Those who believe in transcendent truth, shudder at the idea of mutable humans defining morality.
Remember, we’ve seen this tactic from the religious right and others who think they have garnered some secret wisdom of the cosmos from their sky daddy many times before, usually in conjunction with any science that makes their particular god less ‘necessary’ or gives it fewer gaps to hide in.
“Transcendent truth”, the belief that knowledge can be garnered through some magical incantations performed at a particular deity. It’s funny how this ‘truth’ never results in ANYTHING useful. No one ever sits down, prays a while, and gets up as a Neurosurgeon. People cant even pray for the knowledge of how to make a rope from scratch. It simply, doesn’t actually occur in the real world.
The answer to the question of moral ability will most likely depend on an individual’s worldview. For those of us who believe in the God of the Bible, the answer is a resounding NO!
“…will depend on an individuals worldview.” No, this is exactly the WRONG way to settle this discussion. If we have a few hundred, hell a few dozen, groups that think like Jay does, that they have an untethered pipeline to the almighty (keep in mind they all are ‘connected’ to different sky daddies whose principles and morals tend to reflect those that the believer had inherently) how would the POSSIBLY every all agree on the morality of the situation? We already have precedent of the religious in the country (world) freaking out over interracial relations, vaccines, in vitro fertilization, test tube babies… Hell, we as a species have been arbitrarily selecting for traits in mates for as long as we have been mating. Let’s not even start down the path that if a god or gods created the current process of genetic spread, then he/they are solely responsible for every genetic abnormality, every cancer, every… well, everything. Nice guy.
I guess my over arching point here is. Calm down, and read the science. No one has created a ‘super human’ genome that we can swap out through CRISPR. There are no Captain Americas headed off the Nazi assembly line and we aren’t gene driving a master race. Do we need to proceed with caution keeping in mind the lessons we have learned? Absolutely. Should we allow religious neophytes to fear monger us into inaction and regression instead of progress for the sake of their ‘genuinely held fictional beliefs’? Not on your life.