Which scientific discovery or development in 2017 has interested you the most? Discuss the background to the discovery, its significance and where it might lead in the future. In 2017, scientists in the U.S. first successfully edited a human embryo using the  technology, CRISPR, or more formally known as CRISPR-Cas9. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat and is the most efficient way of genome editing used yet. I found this interesting as the success is a huge development which can be used in the future to create ‘Designer Babies’ and will provide cure to many of the well known diseases that we fear today.  This recent study involved 12 healthy, donated eggs from women and sperm from a man who carries the MYBPC3 gene. MYBPC3 is involved in Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which means it is a condition where part of the heart thickens. The heart cannot function well enough and this leads to sudden heart failure and death in young or in healthy athletes who push their heart too much during exercise. This study was led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who heads the Oregon Health and Science University’s Center for Embryonic cell and Gene therapy. This study tackled an issue known as the Mosaic Problem which occurs when the cells have begun to divide before the DNA has been corrected. Mitalipov’s team reduced the rate of mosaicism by using the CRISPR technology whilst the egg and the sperm fertilised. In 2015, a experiment was completed but only 71 of 86 embryos survived and 54 were genetically tested which proved that 28 were successfully spliced. Junjiu Huang, who led this experiment, said “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%. That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.” In 2017, Mitalipov’s experiment corrected about 72%. This shows us how much the technology has improved over only two years. Genome editing technology gives scientists the ability to delete, insert or replace sections of DNA. It was first used in 1989 using HR (Homologous Recombination) to generate mouse embryonic stem cells. In 1990, the first experiment occurred on a four year old girl treating her for ADA deficiency, which left her defenseless against diseases. Only three years later, the Cre-lox editing technology was created. Cre-loxallowed scientists to control gene expression easily, compared to HR technology. By 1998, scientists discovered the zinc-finger nucleases and, in 2009, they discovered TALENs (Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nuclease). These two methods are useful, but they require extensive expertise. However, before TALENs were discovered, some researchers accidentally discovered clustered DNA repeats, which were later known as CRISPR. CRISPR can be used in any lab, there is not much molecular biology expertise needed, multiple genes can be edited simultaneously and it is much more specific, making it more efficient, effective and affordable. CRISPR-Cas9 was first demonstrated for editing mammalian cells in 2013 and has been successfully used to edit human embryos in 2017. CRISPR-Cas9 based therapeutics can help heal many diseases caused by gene mutations and more. For example, scientists could use CRISPR to treat cancer by removing specific cells. Cancer has still not been cured because there are many types of cancer, each one is different and caused by different mutations and cancer is a cell from a part of your body, which makes it more dangerous. The disease is caused by faulty gene cells and CRISPR-Cas9 allows researchers to explore how the disease is formed and therefore could help treating it. They could also use the same technology to transplant cells to treat muscular dystrophy or sickle cell anaemia. Gene therapy could be used to cure diseases such as Huntington’s disease, an inherited neurological condition causing uncontrolled movements, emotional problems and loss of thinking ability. Vector borne diseases, such as Malaria and Zika, could be eradicated using this technology. This technology could also provide new strategies against infectious viral diseases and use the knock-in technique to replace FTO genes and reduce the amount of obesity. FTO genes influence obesity in humans and if it is faulty, research has shown that energy from food could be stored as fat, not burned. This technology may be able to reveal the fault and correct it. Finally, CRISPR-Cas9 can help scientist create designer babies in the future. Designer babies are genetically modified or “custom-made” children. As embryos, their genes were modified using genetic technology, such as CRISPR-Cas9. This technology can edit desired traits of the child, like disease resistance, sex, athletic ability, strength, intelligence, hair colour and many other cosmetic attributes. Therefore, this means this technology can create “super humans”. Whilst creating super humans and getting rid of all genetic diseases may sound tempting, it raises many complications, which can be ethical, reliability or accuracy. The problems, however, aren’t in the technique or the technology, but in the applications. It can be used to remove diseases, nevertheless, the section of the removed of the gene may be protecting against other diseases. This also may have significant effects on the unborn child and there will be a chance of mutations despite the treatment already. Another reliability issue could be that there is always a chance that not all the cells have been properly edited and there is no way to verify it without destroying the embryo because the embryo must be sampled in order to test it. Animal experiments have already shown that the accuracy is still not 100%. This will not only affect the unborn child but also the generations that come after them due to the affect on the edited child’s gamete cells and therefore the alterations will be irrevocably passed on. And, this could change a lot about nature: Evolution takes place slowly whereas this would be a spontaneous change of human kind, particularly the creation of custom made children. In my opinion, CRISPR-Cas9 is a wonderful innovation that will help rid many diseases we know and cannot treat efficiently as they are in our DNA. It will be able to strengthen the human race and make a child as the parents wish. If more research is allowed and invested in, problems such as reliability and accuracy could be avoided. Experiments, such as Mitalipov’s, could be continued as they are safe and have helped improve accuracy  If the percentage of accuracy is increased to 100%, the technology could be used every day to save lives and make life better. I believe that this is also a way to extend life spans of humans and save economicallyas it is cheaper . To evade risks, such as misuses of the technology, strong rulesmust be enforced and doctors must be well trained to use it. It should not be used to create custom-made children with abundant strength, athletic ability and intelligence.  Overall, this successful experiment showed the possibility of how this technology can help us. We can see that Mitalipov’s increased the percentage of accuracy by approximately 40% from 2015. Scientists have been trying to create successful and beneficial genome editing technology since 1989 and this experiment has allowed them to take a step further. Soon, they could use the technology to tackle a viscous disease that is hard to treat now, for example, Cancer, Huntington’s disease, vector borne diseases and many more. However, there are still downsides to the applications, like if the equipment was wrongly used, doctors could create a superhuman without any consent. I suspect this technology could help us medically if it has boundaries to its uses and this is why it is so interesting, because it splits the world into those who would think it is unethical and those who want it to be used. 

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