Genome Editing Wins a Noble Prize
The procedure can be used for protecting against inheritable diseases, or for creating “designer babies.”
Sweden’s Royal Academy of Sciences has awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry to two scientists “for the development of a method for genome editing.” The 2020 prize was given to Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, Germany, and Jennifer A. Doudna from the U. of California, Berkeley.
The two researchers discovered a type of genetic scissors called CRISPR/Cas9 which can be used with high precision to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms. Using this tool, scientists in just a few weeks can modify genes in cells and change the code of life.
“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. It has not only revolutionized basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments,” says Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
In 2011 Charpentier published a report of her discovery of a molecule in bacteria which can disarm viruses by cutting their DNA. Then in the same year she began collaborating with biochemist Doudna. Together, they were able to recreate the bacteria’s genetic scissors and make it easier to use.
The two researchers were able to show that scientists can control the scissors so that they can cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site. At the point where the DNA is cut, scientists can rewrite the code of life. Called CRISPR/Cas9, this genetic scissors has often been used and has helped lead to many important discoveries in basic research.
Plant researchers have developed crops that can resist mold, pests and drought. In medicine, trials of new cancer therapies have started and researchers think they will soon be able to cure inherited diseases. Scientists say these genetic scissors have advanced life sciences tremendously and are bringing great benefits to humanity.
Comment: It certainly sounds like these scientists are playing God, with all the talk about modifying genes in cells and rewriting the code of life. However, we must remember God is still in charge and is allowing these advances which appear to be helping humanity in several ways.
Yet, scientists sometimes go too far. In 2018, even the world of secular science was shocked to hear about a Chinese researcher who, using the CRISPR technology, edited the genes of unborn twin babies in order to protect them from HIV infection. There is some disputed evidence that the procedure could shorten their life spans.
Now we hear talk of creating “designer babies.” Not only could gene editing eventually lead to barriers against heritable diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and Tay Sachs, but it could inform parents earlier about developmental disorders such as Down Syndrome that would allow them to abort their babies. Also, there is talk about being able to change genes in unborn children so that they would have an appearance, such as having blonde hair, more to their parents’ liking.
The issue of gene editing is still surely a controversial one. Even secular scientists are calling for caution. Rasmus Nielsen, an evolutionary biologist at the U. of California, Berkeley said, “Beyond the many ethical issues involved with the CRISPR babies, the fact is that, right now, with current knowledge, it is still very dangerous to try to introduce mutations without knowing the full effect of what those mutations do. In this case, it is probably not a mutation that most people would want to have. You are actually, on average, worse off having it.”
It appears we need to ask for God’s help in leading these scientists to use gene editing for the benefit of humanity and not for aborting unwanted babies or for introducing mutations just to try to make babies look more like their parents might want. Researchers must always realize they are God’s servants and not try to take His place.
By coming to faith in Jesus Christ, we will eventually in heaven have the perfect bodies we all desire for ourselves and for our loved ones. “Now we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal home in heaven, which is not made by human hands. In fact, the reason we groan is that we long to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven. If we do indeed put it on, we will certainly not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:1-3).
Reference: Nobel Foundation, “Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020: CRISPR/Cas9 method for genome editing,” Science Digest [October 7, 2020]. (“Free to share and use” illustration from idtdna, via Bing.)
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QUESTION OF THE DAY
What are biologics?
Biologics in medicine are products which are derived from living cells, whether human, animal or microorganims. These products include vaccines, blood and blood components, gene therapy, therapeutic proteins, insulin, and others.
Source: “Jonathan Wanagat, MD, PhD, “Ask the Doctor,” UCLA Health [November, 2020], page 8
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