Genetic Engineering Will Change Everything Forever – CRISPR

Imagine you live in the 80s and be told that computers will soon take over everything, from shopping to meetings going through the stock market. And that billions of people would be connected through some sort of network that would fit in your hand and be more powerful than a super computer. All this would seem absurd and yet it all happened. This science fiction has become our reality and we don't even think about it anymore.We are at the same point today with genetic modifications.

 Where it comes from?

What we do today and a recent discovery that will change the way we live and what we perceive as normal forever. -

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

 1 - GENETIC MODIFICATION 

Humans have changed life for thousands of years. By selective breeding, we have strengthened the useful features of plants and animals. We have become very good, but we never understood how it worked before discovering the code of life.

 Deoxyribonucleic acid: DNA- A complex molecule that guides growth, the development, functions and reproduction of all living things. The information is encoded in the structure of the molecule. Four nucleotides are associated in pairs and form a code that carries the instructions. Change the instructions and you change the being who carries them. As soon as DNA was discovered, people tried to manipulate it.

How it all began?

In the 1960s, scientists bombarded plants with radiation to cause random mutations in the genetic code. The idea was to get a useful variation of the plant by sheer luck. Sometimes it really worked. In the 70s, scientists have inserted pieces of DNA into bacteria, plants and animals, to study and modify them. For research, medicine, agriculture or fun.

The first genetically modified animals were born in 1974 making the mouse a research tool, saving millions of lives. In the 80s, we moved on to business. The first patent was filed for a microbe modified to absorb petroleum. Today, we produce several chemicals via modified organisms like clotting factors, growth hormones and insulin. All of the things we had to get from animal organs before that.

The first genetically modified foods in the laboratory were put on sale in 1994:

Tomato Flavr Savr. A tomato with a much longer shelf life, thanks to a gene that suppresses the accumulation of a decomposing enzyme. But GM food and the controversy surrounding it deserves a post in its own right. In the 1990s, there was also a brief foray into human modifications. To treat maternal infertility, babies were modified to carry genetic information from three humans, making them the first humans to ever have three genetic parents. Today there are super muscular pigs, fast growing salmon, featherless chickens, and translucent frogs. On the fun side, we make things glow in the dark.

 Fluorescent fish are available for barely ten dollars. All of this is already very impressive, but until recently, editing genes was extremely expensive, complicated and time-consuming.

New revolutionary technology entering the scene: CRISPR (Short grouped and regularly spaced palindromic repetitions).

Engineering costs fell 99% overnight Instead of a year, it takes a few weeks to conduct experiments, and basically anyone with a lab can do it. It's hard to explain how CRISPR is a great technical revolution. This literally has the potential to to change humanity forever.

Why did this sudden revolution happen and how does it work?

THE OLDEST WAR ON EARTH- Bacteria and viruses fight since the dawn of life. Bacteriophages or phages drive out bacteria. In the ocean, phages kill forty percent of them every day. Phages kill in inserting their own genetic code into bacteria and take control of it to use it as factories. Bacteria try to resist, but most of the time fail because their protective tools are too weak. But sometimes they survive an attack. Only when they do, they can activate their most effective antivirus system, they save part of the virus’s DNA in their own genetic code in a DNA archive called CRISPR. Here it is stored securely until it is needed.

When the virus attacks again, the bacterium quickly makes an RNA copy from the DNA archive and activates a secret weapon: a protein called Cas9. The protein now scans the inside of the bacteria for signs of the invading virus, by comparing each piece of DNA it finds with the sample from the archive. When it finds a 100% perfect match, It activates and cuts the DNA of the virus, rendering it useless and thus protecting the bacteria from attack. What is special is that Cas9 is very precise, almost like a DNA surgeon. The revolution started when scientists discovered that the CRISPR system is programmable.

 You can just give it a copy of the DNA you want to modify, and put the system in a living cell. If the old techniques of genetic manipulation were like a map, CRISPR is like a GPS system. Besides being precise and inexpensive and easy, CRISPR offers the possibility to modify living cells, switch genes on / off, and target and study particular DNA sequences. It also works for every type of cell. Cellular microorganisms, plants, animals or humans. But despite the revolution that CRISPR is for science, it is still a first generation tool.More specific tools are already being created and used right now. -

 THE END OF ILLNESSES?

 In 2015, scientists used CRISPR to cut HIV from living cells in laboratory patients proving it was possible. Only a year later, they carried out a larger scale project with rats all of whose cells were infected with HIV. By simple injection of CRISPR into their tails, they were able to suppress more than 50% of the virus throughout the whole body. In a few decades, CRISPR therapy could cure HIV, and other retroviruses: viruses that hide inside human DNA, such as herpes, could be eradicated this way. CRISPR could also defeat one of our worst enemies: the cancer. Cancer occurs when cells refuse to die and multiply, while hiding from the immune system. CRISPR gives us the means to modify our immune cells and make them better cancer hunters. Getting rid of cancer could possibly mean only get a few injections of a few thousand of your own cells designed in the laboratory to cure you for real. The first clinical trial for the treatment of cancer in human patients by CRISPR, was approved in early 2016 in the USA.

Not even a month later, Chinese scientists announced that they will treat lung cancer patients with modified immune cells in August 2016. Things are picking up quickly. Then there are genetic diseases. There are thousands ranging from moderately annoying to deadly or those that cause decades of suffering. With a powerful tool like CRISPR, we may be able to end all of this. More than 3,000 genetic diseases are caused by a single incorrect letter in your DNA. We are already building a modified Cas9 version, to change a single letter, in order to heal the disease in the cell. In a decade or two, we could possibly cure thousands of diseases forever, but all of these medical apps have one thing in common, they are limited to the individual, and die with them. Unless you use them on reproductive cells or very early embryos.But CRISPR will probably be used for many more: creating modified humans, custom babies, and will mean the gradual but irreversible change in human genetic backgrounds. -

CUSTOM BABIES 

The means to modify the genome of a human embryo already exist, even if the technology is still in its infancy. But that has already tried twice. In 2015 and 2016, Chinese scientists experimented with human embryos and partially succeeded their second attempt They showed the huge challenges we still face in editing embryo genes, but also that scientists are working to resolve them. It looks like the computer in the 70s, there will be better computers. Regardless of your personal opinion on the genetic changes, you will be affected. Modified humans could alter the genome of our entire species because their changed traits will be passed on to their children and could spread over generations, slowly modifying the totality of the genetic resources of humanity.

 It will start slowly. The first custom babies will not be 'over-modified' and will likely be created to eliminate deadly genetic diseases from the family. As technology advances and refines, more and more people will argue that not using genetic modification is unethical because it condemns children to avoidable suffering and / or death, and denies them healing. But as soon as the first modified child is born, a door will open which cannot be closed. At the very beginning, the futile modifications will for the most part be put aside. But when the genetic changes become more accepted, and that our knowledge will develop, the temptation will intensify. If you make sure your offspring are protected from Alzheimer's, why not also improve their metabolism? Why not add a perfect view? What about muscle size or structure? The hair ?

why not give your child the gift of extraordinary intelligence? 

Huge changes are made as a result of the personal decisions of millions of people that accumulate. This is a slippery slope. Modified humans could become the new standard, but by the time the changes become more normal and our knowledge improves, we could solve the biggest mortality risk: aging. Two thirds of the 150,000 people who died today, died from age-related causes. Currently we believe that aging is caused by the accumulation of damage in our cells like DNA breaks and the repair system that wears out over time. But there are also genes that directly affect aging. A combination of genetic modifications and other treatments could stop or slow aging, maybe even reverse it.

We know from nature that there is animals immune to aging, maybe we could even borrow some genes from them for ourselves. Some scientists even think that biological aging could be something that would eventually go away. We would die at some point, but instead of doing it in hospitals at age 90, we may be able to spend a few thousand years with our loved ones. All this is only in its infancy, and many scientists are rightly skeptical about the end of aging. the challenges are huge, and maybe it's impractical, but it is conceivable that people alive today may be the first to benefit from effective anti-aging therapy. All we need is for someone to convince a smart billionaire to make it his next problem to solve. On a larger scale, we could certainly solve many problems by having a modified population.

Humans could be better equipped to cope with high-energy food eliminating many diseases of civilization such as obesity. In possession of a modified immune system with a library of potential threats, we could become insensitive to most of the diseases that haunt us today. Even further into the future, we could be equipped for extended space travel, and face different conditions on other planets. which would be extremely useful for keep us alive in our hostile universe -

A LITTLE OF SALT GRAINS

 However, some big challenges await us. Some technological, some ethical. Most of you will feel uncomfortable and fear that we are creating a world in which we would reject imperfect humans and preselect characteristics and qualities based on our idea of ​​what is healthy The thing is, we already live in this world. Tests for dozens of genetic diseases or complications have become standard for pregnant women in much of the world Often the mere suspicion of a genetic defect can lead to the end of pregnancy.

 Take Down's Syndrome for example, one of the most common genetic abnormalities. In Europe, around 92% of all pregnancies where it is detected are terminated. The decision to end pregnancy is incredibly personal, but it is important to recognize the reality that we pre-screen humans on the basis of medical conditions. There's no point pretending and saying it will change then we have to act carefully and respectfully during our advancement with this technology who can make more and more selections. But none of this is going to happen soon As powerful as CRISPR is, and it is, it is not yet infallible. Bad changes can still happen, as well as unknown errors that can occur anywhere in DNA and might go unnoticed. The modification of the gene could have the desired result, the deactivation of a disease, but could also accidentally trigger unwanted changes, we don't know enough about the complex interactions of our genes yet to avoid unforeseeable consequences.

Work on precision and monitoring methods is a major concern as the first human trials begin. And as we discussed a possible positive future, there are dark sides too. Imagine what a state like North Korea could do if they adopted the genetic modifications .

Could a State Consolidate Its Reign Forever by forcing the editing of genes on its citizens?
What would prevent a totalitarian regime from creating an army of modified super soldiers? It is doable in theory. Scenarios like this are far away in the future, even if they someday become possible. But the basic proof of the genetic concept for projects like this already exists today. The technology is really as powerful. Even if it could be a tempting reason to ban genetic editing and related research, it would certainly be a mistake. The ban on human genetic modification would inevitably lead science to slip up to a country where the jurisdiction and the rules make us uncomfortable. By participating, we can ensure that new research is guided by caution, reason, oversight and transparency.

Do you feel uncomfortable now? 

Most of us have something wrong or imperfect. In the future that lies before us, would we have been allowed to exist? The technology is definitely a little scary, but we have a lot to gain and genetic modification might just be a step in the natural evolution of intelligent species in the universe. We could destroy diseases, we could extend our life expectancy by centuries and travel to the stars. There is no need to think small when talking about this subject. Whatever your opinion on genetic modification, the future approach no matter what we do. What was crazy science fiction is about to become our new reality, a reality full of opportunities, and challenges.

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