Fate vs. choice is a concept that has been discussed and argued all over time. As humans we naturally gravitate towards the idea that we are in control and fear the idea that a third variable might be affecting us. Throughout the scientific exploration of human biology, scientists have believed that fate controls our DNA. This means that our height, hair color, eye color, etc. are all out of the hands of scientific control. That is until recently, when geneticist Jennifer Doudna discovered a new technology allowing the alteration of a genetic code. For those who do not know, DNA is the “hereditary” codes within the cells of not only humans but all living organisms. These codes are comprised of four chemical foundations known as bases. The four bases are adenine (or known as A), guanine ( also known as G), cytosine ( C), and thymine (T). The simplest way to put it is the four bases order in our DNA make up who we are as humans. This process is similar to the way order of letters make up words. Until Doudna’s discovery, it was believed that the order of those letters determined you as a person, similar to fate.
Jennifer Doudna’s discovery is nothing short of a scientific miracle. Her technology, known as the CRISPR-Cas9, is able to act like a scissors in the DNA sequences to cut apart certain sequences. What happens is the sequences of DNA are precisely edited by cutting the double helix strand. The DNA that is then cut in two can have a donor DNA sample inserted into the sequence. Our cells, as well as all living organisms’ cells, have the ability to repair broken DNA. The process that occurs is the broken DNA, with the inserted DNA sample, is then repaired by the cell naturally. A major result of this new technology is its ability to edit and delete genetic diseases. There is a long list of diseases passed down hereditarily such as cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease that can affect a person’s lungs, liver, and intestines among other things. The disease occurs “due to a mutation in the CF gene on chromosome 7.” With Doudna’s new machine, CRISPR-Cas9, doctors and geneticists will be able to edit the mutation causing cystic fibrosis and insert a donor DNA sequence. The machine could potentially put an and to genetic diseases.
Although the machine has shown promising evidence in the field of genetics, there are ethical questions tied in with it. The New York Times published an article discussing the possible obstacles the machine must overcome before becoming fully accepted. One major concern is that the machine could cause scientists to create “designer babies.” This essentially means that the public is afraid this machine will affect the future by creating stronger, better looking, and smarter humans, which is a huge ethical question. For example, scientists in China have already began attempting to alter the human embryo with this machine.
Overall I feel as though this machine is an immensely powerful tool and just as any other tool, it must be used wisely. Jennifer Doudna has discussed and addressed the possible ethical issues that her machine could bring. This is why she as well as her team have called for a hold on any further testing with the machine, until those questions can be addressed. She compared it to the situation in the 1970s in which scientists put on hold the testing for cloning. This technology has the power to incredibly impact a persons life for the better and I feel that that aspect of the machine should not be overlooked. Moving forward I feel the CRISPR-Cas9 should be carefully monitored and studied until scientists can get a better idea of the machine’s place in the science field for the future.