When scientists at the University of California in Berkeley discovered a new way of editing human DNA, they had no idea that this discovery will bring serious troubles for them. Right now, the researchers are primarily worried about the fact that the technology created by them might be used for immoral or unethical purposes. Here, it must be mentioned that the new tech discovered by them is referred to as the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology.
CRISPR-Cas9 has showcased the significant potential of being a tool that can prevent inherited diseases; scientists have also found signs that indicate that the technology might act as a cure for serious illnesses like HIV and cancer. That’s not all; tests revealed that CRISPR-Cas9 might even be effective in increasing global food supply and quelling hunger.
However, this year in January CRISPR-Cas9 was used for a different purpose. A research group from China used this new gene editing tool for creating “designer baby” primates by editing their immune cell development, metabolism, and sex.
Then in April, another group of scientists in China used the technology for carrying out experiments using human embryos. These experiments were conducted for preventing a gene-induced blood disease. The results obtained during this study were mostly negative; while the scientists managed to edit a few embryos, other got mutated.
According to Jacob Corn of UC, Berkeley, such events should be treated as the wake-up call. He said that human traits tend to change naturally in due course, and this technology is about performing those changes faster than nature.
Corn and his team took part in a closed-door meeting last January and suggested that further discussion and assessment are required for gathering more knowledge about the risks and advantages gene editing comes with. They have also put forward a 4-point plan to be followed during future applications of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tech.
The four points in the plan are: discouraging the technology’s clinical application, creating forums to enable learning and discussion on the technology, holding a meeting with international experts for discussing all the issues concerning the technology, and promoting open research for establishing its usefulness.
For those who don’t know: there has been a dispute regarding the ownership of the patent of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tech.
The patent of this technology is currently owned by the MIT and the Harvard University. However, the US Patent & Trademark Office has been requested to award it to the University of California, Berkeley. This has resulted in a legal battle between UC and MIT; experts are saying that the fight over the CRISPR-Cas9 patent might take years to resolve.