Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Easy DNA editing


Biotechnology is about to remake the world.

No really. I know I have made statements to this effect or similar over the years but this article on "Crispr" really drives the point home. It's quite a long read, but well worth it. And since I know you're all busy, I will provide a (very) brief synopsis.

Crispr-Cas9 is the formal name of what's being called an easy-to-use gene editing tool. "Crispr" actually stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” a moniker for the genetic basis of the editing method while Cas9 is name of the protein that makes the process possible. So what does it do? Well as the phrase "gene editor" implies, it makes it easier to move genes around...whether those are genes in bacteria or human beings. It is an amazing achievement in biotechnology.

That means all kinds of doors are going to open.

Here's the short list of what's already been accomplished:

"Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals. Startups devoted to Crispr have launched. International pharmaceutical and agricultural companies have spun up Crispr R&D. Two of the most powerful universities in the US are engaged in a vicious war over the basic patent. Depending on what kind of person you are, Crispr makes you see a gleaming world of the future, a Nobel medallion, or dollar signs."

Biotechnology isn't a frivolous widget made up by an uninspired corporation somewhere. These products allow us to edit the source code of life itself. Through the easy and quick alteration of DNA, we may be able to accomplish such lofty goals as curing diseases and ending world hunger. We could finally modify the human body to be more durable, more resilient, more...better for lack of a more grammatically correct completion of that list.

So of course people are worried. There are the natural suspicions about designer children, genetically engineered haves against naturally-born have-nots, and super nasty bioweapons. True, we must keep the perils and pitfalls squarely in mind, but as you might expect, I say don't throw the transgenic baby out with the biotech bathwater. This kind of DNA editing might solve a problem that's been on at least a few people's minds,

Futurists such as Ian Pearson have made claims that in the future, say by the year 2050, sex with robot surrogates will be commonplace. Not so fast say a consortium of concerned experts. They are saying that it's just not a good idea. More than that, it's flat out unethical. If fembots are off the table, then...and I'm just spitballing here and certainly not a member of the biotech cognoscenti...why not completely designed organisms? I mean, it's not like sex with a machine. It will be an actual living being. Maybe one with all kinds of biological add-ons like with the tentagirls. Is that okay, then?

So when can I get my own Asia Carrera?


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