• Question: is genetic modifictaion possible if so how and how coudl it be used to aid people in everyday ife and could it be exploited

    Asked by 639genp34 to Oliver on 14 Nov 2018.
    • Photo: Oliver

      Oliver answered on 14 Nov 2018:

      Thank you for this excellent question! Genetic modification is possible and has been happening for decades. However, it was very difficult and costly until recently and the work to make small changes took a long time to make (and most times, they did not work). However, CRISPR is much faster, accurate, can make many changes quickly than ever before. It has been called revolutionary in how it has improved ways we can make genetic modifications (which we usually now call gene editing) – older forms of genetic modification were like trying to score a goal from your own half of the pitch, new forms of gene editing are like taking a penalty!

      For a very interesting talk by one of the people who discovered this new revolutionary method, see: https://www.ted.com/talks/jennifer_doudna_we_can_now_edit_our_dna_but_let_s_do_it_wisely?language=en

      There are many possible uses for humans – to study disease, to develop new treatments for currently incurable genetic diseases or better treatments for other diseases (treating cancer with less side effects), to improve our resistance to the problems of aging (memory loss, etc) and many more!

      Outside of health, gene editing can be used in growing crops that are more resistant to disease, creating more food for human consumption. Or used to make change to some mosquitos that can spread malaria. There are so many possibilities – both directly in human health and indirectly via agriculture.

      Of course, all technology and all knowledge can be used for bad as well as good. There are really big issues right now over who owns (through a thing called patent control) the CRISPR method of gene editing and so who really controls its development. Some researchers in some countries can use it for making changes to humans that might be unsafe, or unethical (eg eugenics). Others can use it to make changes in agriculture that only benefit big companies and business, rather than farmers.

      With everything, there are such risks of misuse and there are regulations to avoid this. However, I don’t think the regulations are always well made and not always followed. That is why we always need to be aware of how it could be exploited for bad reasons, to see it where it might be happening and to control and stop the misuses so that the good uses can be protected. This is what bioethics attempts to do – maybe you could help us do this someday!