A few decades ago, the idea that we could one day cheaply and reliably edit the basic building blocks of life could be safely relegated to the domain of science fiction. Today, however, that is becoming less and less the case.
CRISPR/Cas9 is a technology that allows “genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome.” While gene editing technology has existed for some time, CRISPR/Cas9 “has generated a lot of excitement in the scientific community because it is faster, cheaper, more accurate, and more efficient than other existing genome editing methods.”
This technology is still in its infancy, but it isn’t hard to consider the possibilities that it could enable down the road. It could change the way we treat diseases; instead of vaccinations, we could gene edit specific immunities into someone’s DNA–not to mention that many hereditary diseases could be eliminated altogether. It could change the way we cosmetically alter ourselves, as well. Eye color, skin pigmintation, hair color, and more can be traced to our DNA, and potentially tweaked with the use of gene editing. The potential for “designer babies” has been suggested, wherein couples could fiddle with traits such as intelligence, aggression, and more while a child was still in the womb.
While the upsides are certainly obvious, that’s only one side of the issue. More frightening doors could be opened, too. Individuals could design “superbugs,” or contaigions that are specifically engineered to overcome our best anti-biotics. Dictators could potentially engineer a more docile, compliant population.
If gene editing were made reliable and affordable, it could revolutionize our entire society, making several different previous technologies obsolete entirely. Only time will tell if CRISPR/Cas9 will advance to this stage; it has yet to enter human trials. But the potential is certainly there, and we should consider the implications.