Wednesday, March 25, 2015

CRISPR is coming

The CRISPR revolution seems to be here, is this the coming of eugenics?

From Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cohen remarks on CRISPR, the breakthrough technology which allows us to modify DNA in vivo:
I believe the implications of all this — and its nearness to actual realization — have not yet hit either economics or the world of ideas more generally. This is probably big, big news.
I concur. More deeply, we could be moving to a new form of evolution, where genes can be inherited laterally across lineages, just like ideas can. Rather than a new mutation (or old mutation, newly discovered) having to displace old populations, the mutation can be voluntarily adopted by existing populations, much like converting to a newly popular religion.

In many ways, this is to be welcome. There are many genetic sequences in the animal kingdom which would be similar to super-powers among humans, such as the naked mole rat's complete immunity to cancer or the opossum's immunity to poison. Even if we don't want to adopt these mutations into our own genome, we could edit common pond algae to cheaply produce the relevant proteins in abundance for when we want to use them medicinally. 

We will also be entering a dangerous phase of our species' existence where independent labs can modify animals or plants and release them into the wild. Think about the introduction of rabbits to Australia, or other invasive species in other parts of the world. Soon the invasive species will be man-made. There will be instances where this is beneficial, but we should also assume there will be instances where it will not.

Much to consider.

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