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Implications of CRISPR

For the ones of you who don’t know, the CRISPR/Cas system is a prokaryoriotic immune system which has recently started to be used in genetic engineering. So far, this seems to be resulting in a dramatic decrease of the costs of altering an organism’s genome.

The age of cheap and accessible gene editing may come even sooner than we anticipated. For those who (like me) have been enthusiacally waiting for this paradigm shift, these are great news, but not everyone seems to be happy.

Many people seem to be worried about the imminent development of DIY biology, which CRISPR may make practical whithin the span of a decade. When the common man can gather the resources to create a new organisms in his garage, some very bright, but also some very dark, possibilities will open. You can picture a smart kid discovering the cure for cancer by himself using DIY bio, but you can also imagine him creating a supervirus whcih would destroy humanity (some guy on the internet has said that the apocalypse will become available by 40 US dollars).

Because of this last possibility, many people (including [some generally technoprogressive people] 1) are calling for a moratorium on CRISPR related research.

In my opinion, while its true that we should recognize CRISPR’s destructive power, we should also consider the following:

  • CRISPR provides us with an unique opportunity to rapidly eradicate all the genetic diseases that haves plagued humanity for millenia, thus saving millions of people.
  • CRISPR will allow us to easily create better genetically modified crops which will help to mitigate (or maybe even eradicate) famine in the world, thus saving even more millions of people.
  • CRISPR will allow us to develop new ways of fighting several types of viral diseases, including AIDS and every possible atificial virus which could eventually be created using CRISPR

In the end, I think that CRISPR has potential to save many more lives than it could possibly destroy (especially since it will provide us with ways to save the lives that it could possibly destroy) and we would be foolish not to pursue its development.

What’s your opinion?

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i am not that euphoric concerning the hope to “save many lives” and i am not that pessimistic like “doomsday is available in the supermarket”. i once was susceptible for apocalyptic - style news but that has changed a little bit. if somebody gets inspired by “twelve monkeys”, he will find a way to get his bio-weapon he needs to wipe out humanity, with or without new technology. maybe he fails, or only succeeded partly or he could be stopped, who knows. on the other hand i consider a chainsaw a dangerous weapon. and although every psychopath could purchase one with little money in every DIY market, we didn´t have our daily “texas chainsaw massacre” in the world news. when i was a little child i believed that by now we would already have colonized the moon. but the world changes distubingly little and the best future technology i profit from is the internet. …and this is decades old.
generally, i think that technology has to be explored by humanity and not be restricted. what is more important: that we work together, that our motives are good ones so that one day we can trust our fellow human beings and not fear them.

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Oops, somehow this thread slipped through the cracks of my attention until today. Not replying until now was not intentional.

So, first of all: I’m glad that the CRISPR/Cas9 system has been developed. It’s a milestone in genetic manipulation technology. I’m rather of the opinion that things are not progressing quickly enough. 15 years ago I expected that gene therapies for all kinds of diseases would been commonplace by now. This hasn’t really happened and it’s frustrating! It feels like effective gene therapies for genetic diseases will always be 15 years in the future. They would be a promise that seems so close and still so distant just like efficient nuclear fusion.

About the dangers of genetic manipulation with viruses: I’m not really sold on that. There are already pretty potent viruses out there and civilization could have been thoroughly destroyed by releasing several of them at once at different critical locations. This hasn’t happened so far. Have we been lucky, or are the safeguards that are already in place sufficient to make us safe? I’m not sure. I’m not sufficiently informed in that regard. Ray Kurzweil seems to be optimistic that your safeguards are good.

Yes, let’s hope that our technology will advance so quickly that we can create vaccines for all kinds of viruses within a few weeks once a new virus is detected. This should be fast enough to make any realistic bio-doomsday scenario unfeasible. The sooner we work on making that a reality, the faster we will become immune against natural and artificial pandemics!

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Our safeguards have worked so far, they are perfectly enough to protect us against the biological threats our time. I’m not sure if they will be enough to fight artifficially enhanced superviruses on a regular basis, but I believe that, when that time comes,we’ll have far better tools to do that.

Exactly!

No matter how much luddites whine about it, the only thing technology actually does is giving people power. That means that, in the future, bad people will have more power to do bad things, but it also means that good people will also have more power not just to do good things but also to stop bad things from happening.

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