The CRISPR/Cas9 system has been revolutionary in the world of genetic research. However, as genetic engineering moves into human applications, it’s now time to ask: what benefits can this bring? And, how far is too far when it comes to altering the human genome?
Genome editing techniques have been around for decades; in 1973, the first transgenic organism was created by the insertion of antibiotic resistance genes into Escherichia coli, which was quickly followed by the first transgenic animal – a mouse – a year later. Since then, it has been applied across all areas of biology, from creating bacteria that could break down crude oil to increasing the shelf life of tomatoes .
However, it was the introduction of the CRISPR/Cas9 system in 2012  that kick-started the rapid development of gene-editing technology into the widely practised technique that it is today. Thousands of papers on CRISPR are published each year, with the rate increase annually. It seems that the applications of CRISPR know no bounds, with geneticists everywhere keen to apply the technique to anything and everything.
Do bacterial Genomes hold the key?
With use on the bacterial genome becoming old hat, researchers are turning to human use; asking how they can use this technology for a therapeutic advantage. Shifting the focus of research to the treatment of genetic diseases, laboratory advances are being made for multiple disorders and some are already being put to clinical use.
Although becoming a reality, the alteration of human DNA remains something seemingly fictional. Be it Professor X, Deadpool or Scarlet Witch, those with modified DNA or ‘mutants’ are still associated with the superheroes of well-known comic books and films. Currently, the use of CRISPR in humans is purely therapeutic, fixing genetic mutations rather than creating them; however, such therapies are giving individuals abilities above those that the DNA they were born with gave them. They are becoming the first genetically modified humans; individuals whose DNA is being altered in order to improve their quality of life. Full Story
GMO Humans are coming?
A scientist in China may have used a powerful gene-editing tool to snip out unwanted genes from human embryos, creating the first genetically modified humans and bringing a dystopian future feared by many one step closer.
The scientist, He Jiankui, claimed in a video he posted online yesterday (Nov. 25) that he had used CRISPR-Cas9 — a gene-editing tool that has revolutionized the field of genetics in the past decade — to delete a gene in human embryos in order to make the babies resistant to HIV. He said in the video that those embryos have developed into two healthy babies: a set of twins named Lulu and Nana. The twins “came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago,” He said in the video. [Genetics by the Numbers: 10 Tantalizing Tales]
The scientist’s claim has not been verified — indeed, the hospital named in He’s ethical-approval documents has denied any involvement in the procedure, CNN reported — but the scientific community has still responded to the claim with outrage and concern, according to news reports. Indeed, even setting aside the very real ethical concerns of using this technology to manipulate human genes, many scientists believe that such alterations could have far-reaching and unforeseen health problems. Full Story
Ethics of Gmo Humans
Metzl is Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council and serves on the World Health Organization’s expert advisory committee on developing global standards for human genome editing. He previously served on the U.S. National Security Council, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as a Human Rights Officer for the United Nations in Cambodia. (And yes, he is also an Ironman triathlete.) His latest book, Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity, explores the coming genetic revolution and the future of humanity.
Many parents are already genetically engineering their children today, even though we don’t call it that. Increasing numbers of parents are using IVF and preimplantation genetic testing instead of sex to make babies and choosing to implant embryos less likely to have certain genetic diseases and chromosomal disorders. Others are using prenatal testing to detect genetic abnormalities and, in some cases, choosing to terminate pregnancies.
Two girls have now been born in China whose pre-implanted embryos had been altered by an unethical scientist. Full Story