The Student News Site of Clemson University

The Tiger

The Tiger

The Tiger

Ethics of Gene Editing: Research uses newly discovered method to fix genetic flaws found in embryos

Dr. Kathy Niakan, a developmental biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London could have the leading edge in embryological research. Due to recent technological advances, Dr. Niakan has been given permission to use the Crispr/Cas gene editing technique on viable human embryos. The use of human embryonic tissue for medical research has long been a controversial topic, and many are wary after The New York Times reported on the matter.
Crispr is an acronym that stands for “clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats.” In the simplest of terms, it’s a natural biological system that’s been around in bacteria for a while, but recently scientists have been manipulating it to edit specified genomes. A technique that was previously used on mice embryos and non-viable human embryos is, for the first time, being considered for use on healthy human cells. 
The fertilized egg cell, the zygote, divides into a ball of cells and moves down the fallopian tube into the uterus over the first few days after conception. The cluster of cells is officially considered an embryo after it attaches to the endometrial layer of the uterine wall, which occurs six days after fertilization, until eight weeks into development. Dr. Niakan is using Crispr on zygotes and early embryos donated from fertility clinics to learn about embryonic development; she intends to use her research findings to solve common infertility issues, as many embryonic deaths occur before endometrial implantation. Even further down the road, other developmental biologists hope to use the Crispr technique to prevent genetic diseases with genetic “edits.”
In the United States, research in this technique is at a standstill because it is illegal for the government to support research that involves the destruction of a human embryo. So what are the ethics of this technology? Since abortion is already a hotly debated topic, would this use of the Crispr/Cas technique on humans be considered immoral? 
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I find it hard to believe anyone against abortion for the sake of religion would be in favor of this technology. Even if this system were used to reverse genetic defects and prevent errors in DNA, according to certain beliefs these “mistakes” aren’t mistakes at all. If abortion is considered murder, then isn’t editing human genes defying God’s will? And why should we stop at disease prevention? If we can use the Crispr/Cas method to fix a single genetic flaw, then we could theoretically use it to achieve genetic perfection. Petri dishes have housed embryos, test tube babies have been birthed, and it looks like modified children are coming up next.
Even those adamantly opposed to the use of embryonic tissue for research can admit that the eradication of certain genetic diseases would be a blessing to many. I’m sure that countless families affected by disorders like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and Lou Gehrig disease would jump at the chance to correct DNA mistakes for future family members. Nanotechnology of this scope has great implications for the future of medical science, but where should we draw the line?

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Tiger

Your donation will support the student journalists of Clemson University . Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Tiger

Comments (0)

All The Tiger Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *