Course of Human Evolution Could Change With Gene Editing Technology
Synopsis: New gene-editing technology could eliminate some inherited diseases but also change the course of human evolution.1
Author: Issues in Science and Technology2 Contact: issues.org
Published: 2016-04-07 Updated: 2020-06-14
Judith Benz-Schwarzburg and Arianna Ferrari point out that genetically modifying farm animals raises complex ethical questions about animal welfare.
Just as advances in biotechnology have profound social implications, developments in information technology are affecting many aspects of social and economic relations.
The recently developed gene-editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas has created opportunities for valuable medical treatments for hereditary disease but also raised fears about possible misuses or unintended effects.
What is CRISPR/Cas?
- CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a family of DNA sequences found in the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea.
- Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) is an enzyme that uses CRISPR sequences as a guide to recognize and cleave specific strands of DNA that are complementary to the CRISPR sequence.
- The CRISPR-Cas system is a prokaryotic immune system that confers resistance to foreign genetic elements such as those present within plasmids and phages that provides a form of acquired immunity. RNA harboring the spacer sequence helps Cas (CRISPR-associated) proteins recognize and cut foreign pathogenic DNA.
Issues in Science and Technology
The Spring 2016 Issues in Science and Technology includes four articles by experts on the implications of this powerful new tool.
- Nobel laureate David Baltimore explains why this technology is so important and so deserving of careful scrutiny.
- Law professor and bioethicist R. Alta Charo provides an overview of the international regulatory environment.
- Science historian Daniel J. Kevles reviews the disturbing history of the eugenics movement, which is newly relevant because this technology makes the prospect of direct intervention in human evolution more feasible.
- Sociologist Ruha Benjamin explores how this technology is of particular interest to the disability community, which is often excluded from debates over new medical developments.
Whereas all of the above articles argue for a go-slow, deliberative approach to this new technology, Henry Miller of Stanford's Hoover Institution warns against a proposed moratorium on clinical applications of gene editing. He argues that such a proposal reveals ignorance about how innovation works and ignores the human suffering that could be alleviated with genetic treatment.
New genetic techniques can also be applied to other species, Judith Benz-Schwarzburg and Arianna Ferrari point out that genetically modifying farm animals raises complex ethical questions about animal welfare.
Just as advances in biotechnology have profound social implications, developments in information technology are affecting many aspects of social and economic relations. Martin Kenney and John Zysman of the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy look at how the application of big data, new algorithms, and cloud computing will change the nature of work and the structure of the economy in what they call "The Rise of the Platform Economy." They explain how the exact nature of that change will be determined by the social, political, and business choices we make.
George Washington University sociologist Amitai Etzioni steps back to look at the big picture of how society manages new developments in science and technology. He argues that we should harness new capabilities in ways that cultivate social and moral progress.
Issues in Science and Technology is the award-winning journal of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the University of Texas at Dallas and Arizona State University.
2Source/Reference: Issues in Science and Technology (issues.org). Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.
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