Genetic engineering has been bringing moral issues, since its emergence in the world.
Genes are the most basic elements of every creature. Genes affect all species’ futures, including how they would look like, how they would behave, and even when and how they would die. The importance of genes is obviously indescribable.
Genetic engineers are the ones who play the god’s roles, and now, their new toy, “Gene drive” technology (gene drive means CRISPR-Cas9, in this writing), has become one of the biggest issues in the field of science. Application of gene drive and the advantages it can bring to human beings are countless. For instance, it can prevent the spread of mosquitoes that carry diseases such as malaria and Zika. It can get rid of herbicide or pesticide resistance. This technology would help us to control nature in the most eco-friendly way.
You might have a question about the term eco-friendly. The definition of eco-friendly is “not harmful to the environment,” but can we say manipulating specific species’ genes is “not harmful to the environment”? My answer is “no.” Gene drive is a technology based on the reproduction of species. We don’t know what gene drive will cause thousands of generations later. A minor change of other species’ gene can possibly cause a significant problem to mankind like a butterfly effect.
Not only can it be applied to other species, it can be applied to us, human beings. This technology can allow us to genetically design a fetus. We may end up without any individuality, diversity, or change in the future. As an extreme example, terrorists will be able to use it to make a bio-weapon for suicidal elimination of mankind.
However, the temptation of using this technology is too strong to just ignore. Isn’t it valuable enough to use without considering its environmental or moral issues?
Gene drive technology will let us take the first step to an absolute control of the nature. It will open a door to whole new world that can be potentially be called “Utopia.” But, to deal with this fascinating skill, we should find the balance between morality and the merits it can bring us.
In my opinion, human rights or lives must be the most important ones in any case that can even kill other species. Thus, if gene drive’s usage can have positive effects on people’s lives and comfort, it has to be used for collective good, even though it can cause a huge impact on the environment.
Of course, there must be a limitation to its uses. One of the best solutions of this problem would be limiting the access of it to a very small group of people. This technology is a double-edged sword; it can be so dangerous and harmful, but, at the same time, it is very useful and helpful. The dangers of it are not only ethical, but also technical. According to Nature magazine, in an experiment to edit pigs’ genes to transplant their organs to humans’ bodies or just to get higher quality of meat, “only 13 pigs of 32 survived for 8 months and still two of them are alive, but only one looks healthy.”(06.30.2016) Moreover, in Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China, to fix genes which cause thalassemia, research engineers cut the related genes off from 86 embryos. 48 hours later, 71 survived and only 28 were manipulated correctly. It was only 32.6% success rate which is not high enough for actual application.
Human and environmental ethics as well as technical defects are the problems we need to solve with gene drive technology. But to make a better and more comfortable world, don’t we have to take some risks?