Sci-Fi becoming Reality, but at what cost?

Alexa Austin, Staff Writer

With the modernization of science and technology, sci-fi is gradually becoming a reality. Scientists are already taking advantage of a new, efficient way of editing genes. So what does this mean for the future of the human race?

One gene editing tool that has gained popularity since its discovery in 2012 is Crispr Cas9, which has the ability to cut out the bad genes and insert newer, and better ones. Crispr is found in the genome of microbes and is essentially a built-in system that fights against viruses that try to invade the organism. It works by using the piece of genome that codes for the process in conjunction with a protein called Cas9, which breaks apart the invading virus. Thus, this disables the invasive virus. Using this tool, scientists are now able to edit the DNA of organisms quicker and easier. Previous to Crispr, it would take 2-3 generations of the organism to pass down a single mutated trait. However, Crispr is able to precisely edit multiple genes in an organism.

Scientists are already able to conduct trials and save lives by using Crispr to fight HIV. Cases of HIV have been steadily decreasing in recent years, with its peak in the 1990s. However, there are still certain forms of HIV that are immune to treatment. In order to fight these immune viruses, researchers in California had used Crispr-Cas9 to delete a gene which was the way HIV entered and infected cells. Researchers had also conducted experiments in mice where 99% of the cells were infected with HIV, but later on reduced to 48% when the mice had the protein, Cas9, injected into their tails.

As for the future, Scientists are optimistic about Crispr because it means fighting genetic diseases as well as humanity’s worst enemy: cancer. Cancer cells found in the body refuse to die, and therefore build up. Cancer cells don’t go through apoptosis, where a cell ‘pops’ if it cannot carry out its normal function. However, cancer occurs when these cells continue to divide, rather than dying off. This causes tumors in the body that can disrupt normal tissue, but that can also circulate through the rest of the body and reside in vital areas such as the lungs.

Crispr has already been used with patients in the U.S. as well as China. On June 21, 2016, the first cancer case treated with Crispr had happened. Later on in the year, China had used Crispr to successfully cure a patient with lung cancer by making the immune cell in the body stronger, which helped these cells go through apoptosis.

Crispr- Cas9 also has the potential to cure genetic diseases such as hemophilia, Huntington’s disease, and color blindness. With over 3000 genetic disorders being attributable to a single incorrect letter in a 1000 letter sequence of genes, the current modification of a Cas9 protein can essentially correct all of these diseases, allowing people live longer and happier lives.

While the benefits of Crispr Cas9 seem endless, gene editing also leads way to many other problems—designer babies being one of them. Like computers, the idea of designing a baby seems outrageous. Yet, 30 years after the invention of the computer, we carry around a mini-computer in our pocket that has capabilities people in the 1980s could only dream of.

So, what if we were able to genetically engineer our children to be stronger, smarter, and better abled? What does this mean for our species as a whole? One of my main concerns is how genetic engineering is going to reach a point where it is so normalized that rather than being left out for being “weird”, you are left out for not having your genes edited. I also believe that there will be trends of certain traits in generations, creating a divide between these groups.

With the ability to decide every trait your child can possess, people will likely be designing a child who will have the trendy eye or hair color, an impeccable physical strength, or people will design their children to be “smarter”. All parents want to see their children succeed in life, and having a child who, in today’s terms, would be an honor student, is alluring to many parents because of the connection between intelligence and what is commonly defined as success in life. But what if your child having blue eyes or a higher IQ becomes the new norm? What happens when every child has blues eyes and has an IQ in the 200s?

This will redefine what intelligence means. However smart or pretty you aim to make your child, the rapid exponential changes made that continually alter the meaning of “smart” or “pretty” will never be achieved, creating not only a divide, but normalizing the changing of a child’s genes in order for them to be unattainably perfect.