Genome editing well underway
National Geographic magazine in August 2016 published an article on ‘The DNA Revolution.’ In the article Dr. Jennifer Doudna of Berkeley, co-discoverer of a gene editing technology, asks the question: “What are the unintended consequences of genome editing? Her answer is “I don’t know that we know enough about the human genome, or maybe any other genome, to fully answer that question. But people will use the technology whether we know enough about it or not.”
The article lists four applications of gene editing: (1) treating disease, (2) altering ecology, (3) transforming food and (4) editing humans. True to Dr. Doudna’s expectations, laboratory experiments are taking place in all four areas.
In 2016 the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, Calif. engineered a ‘synthetic bacteria’ with a genome of 473 genes, fewer genes than any known free-living bacteria. However, 65 of the genes have no known function but are required for survival. Humans have a genome of 20,000 genes plus the genome of our gut bacteria.
Dr. Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, says: “If you are going to do anything as fateful as rewriting the germ line, you’d better be able to tell me there’s a strong reason to do it. Any you’d better be able to say that society made a choice to do this – that unless there’s broad agreement, it’s not going to happen. Scientist don’t have standing to answer these questions and I’m not sure who does.”