ADSactly Tech News: Genetic Experiments, Developments and Scientific Research Which May Transform Our World in 2018
Image Source: Forbes
Genetic Engineering is a relatively new science and as it progresses people frequently asking questions about this new and strange science.
Is it possible to own DNA? What sort of guidelines should be established internationally before persuing more advanced gene editing methods in application to human beings?
In our modern world it is becoming increasingly more difficult to seperate fact from fiction. It is becoming a real challenge to distinguish reality from science fiction.
This is especially the case when it comes to the recent advancements being made in modern genetic engineering and editing techniques. As the world of nature and science blur into one and the same we must take a step back and look at the big picture. In this article I will go into what I've learned the past year about this rapidly advancing field in an attempt to show my readers a glimpse at where we are at in terms of the application of these technologies.
With a good helicopter view of the entire industry and the possibilities present within it, it is my hope readers will be able to make some educated predictions about where this is all going.
Before we get into some of the deep applications of genetic engineering, lets first take a quick look at how it is even done in the first place.
Scientists recently uncovered a new method for modifying genes called CRISPR. CRISPR allows the insertion of specific DNA instructions into a genetic engineering tool that uses a CRISPR sequence of DNA and its associated protein to edit the base pairs of a gene.
We are basically talking about modifying a gene. Doing Mother Nature's job for her. Now scientists have realized that there are many applications in which the new gene editing technology CRISPR can be used.
I suppose now that I've given this new CRISPR method such a grand introduction you'd like to see some examples right? Well what if I told you that there is an Australian geneticist who spends days on the road arguing with critics about Monsanto’s GM soybeans and appears in documentaries, telling the public why genetic modification is safe. What if I told you this same geneticist is working on a project to create what can only be referred to as 'Terminator' cattle?
Image Source: Pixabay
What do you imagine when I refer to these 'Terminator' cattle? Cows running around with guns trying to kill humans? Well, it isn't that bad fortunately... The name comes from the relationship between the word terminate and the word end. A cow that doesn't have the ability to reproduce. Creepy?
After a year of trying, the lab had just used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to add a gene called SRY to some bovine skin cells. And SRY is no ordinary bit of DNA. All on its own, the presence of SRY can make a female turn out to be essentially male—with bigger muscles, a penis, and testicles (although unable to make sperm).
So essentially they have found a way to terminate the female gene to hit the jackpot everytime in creating male cows with bigger muscles, penises and testicles and missing one thing, the ability to reproduce! Offspring terminated before birth!
Beyond simply creating these 'Terminator' cattle, geneticists are making progress in several areas and the progress they are making is unbelievable. The future will look strange indeed.
Gene-editing technology is most commonly being used in application with farm animals. Scientists have used this technology to do some interesting things which include creating pigs immune to viruses and producing sheep that grow longer wool. In fact, they have even made successful efforts to edit dairy cows to eliminate their horns.
The main geneticist behind these new 'Terminator' cattle is Dr. Van Eenennaam.
Now, in the project she calls “Boys Only,” she aims to create a bull that will father only male offspring: either normal bull calves or ones with two X chromosomes but also the male-making SRY. No females at all.
I'm not completely sure but it sounds like this type of tampering with nature could possibly have some unintended consequences we have yet to explore, couldn't it?
Companies are now lobbying the Trump Administration to kill the rules and declare gene-edited animals unregulated. They've warned the White House the U.S. could fall behind countries like Argentina and Brazil.
If Trump goes ahead and kills the rules around gene-editing to make this unregulated, get ready for freak experiments on animals. Is this a slippery slope we are looking at?
Because cattle are tagged, branded, corralled, and slaughtered, as well as being slow to reproduce, they’re actually among the least likely organisms to cause a genetic escape. Van Eenennaam’s long-term goal is to make beef production more efficient. Males yield more meat than females and don’t get pregnant or go into heat. She thinks the ersatz males should be about 15 percent more efficient at turning grass and grain into muscle than females.
This reminds me of the movie Jurassic Park where Dr. Ian Malcolm explains how chaos theory works. You see because blah blah blah, that could never happen! But it will, it always does, we are certainly a naive race at times aren't we?
Creating terminator bulls may be a good idea after all considering artificial insemination is used in only about 4 percent of beef cattle. This is because apparently, it takes a lot of effort in roving the range, gathering cows, and getting them pregnant.
Van Eenennaam's success depends upon her ability to produce male-only bulls which would prove to be a far less expensive way to solve this problem of procreation in bovine!
“A bull is a lot better at doing it than we are,” she says. “And he enjoys it a lot more.”
But the question must still be asked, should we be creating terminator cows in the first place?
Image Source: Maxim
Well, now that I've covered the relationship between farm animals and geneticists lets take a look at how this technology is being applied to humans...
When it comes to developments focused on human beings I must refer to the application of gene editing and modification. Have no doubt, we are entering an age in which gene editing will become a common practice in eliminating genetic disorders in human beings.
If you have the money you will be able to embark on a path to eliminate all undesirable genes from your genetic code, you can spend it on becoming a genetically superior human being. Perhaps in a not too distant dystopian future you would even be deemed as 'more worthy' of passing on your code to offspring.
Genetic screening has become commonplace in hospitals and as far as I understand it, some diseases can even be prevented before a child is born.
Using a swab of saliva from a newborn’s cheek, a new DNA test will probe the baby’s genes to search for 193 genetic diseases, like anemia, epilepsy, and metabolic disorders.
The new procedure is as easy as simply using a swab to take a small saliva sample from a newborn child. It can then be used to detect up to 193 genetic diseases which we may not be able to cure yet but in this rapidly progressing field it wont be long until we can!
The $649 test is meant for healthy babies, as a supplement to existing screening tests. In the US, the government recommends a newborn screening test that looks for a minimum of 34 disorders (though some states have additional requirements as well). The standard test involves a small sample of blood taken from a baby’s heel.
What we are looking at is an advancement which is able to detect over 500% more diseases and with knowledge they are an issue as new treatments become available parents will have the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and potentially push forward on ground-breaking new treatments.
According to Eric Schadt, the CEO of Sema4, one of the companies that offers this genetic screening, he said that the purpose of this new test is to provide more options to parents who would like more information about their child’s genes than standard testing delivers.
He went on to explain that many people suffer for years before they get diagnosed for some of the diseases that his company’s test covers.
“If you can, at birth, canvass some of the most common disorders, you get a better understanding of the health of your child,” Schadt says. “We think parents want the best for their children and are going to do whatever they can so that their child can have the healthiest life possible.”
But is this Gattaca like genetic testing and gene editing something we truly want for humanity?
Are we on the verge of completely transforming the human race with designer genes?
Image Source: Maxim
As the possibility of gene editing in human beings becomes increasingly probable, a lot of ethical challenges and questions are still left unanswered. Is it morally or ethically right to tamper with the human genome in an effort to make more 'perfect' people with greater mental and physical attributes?
Between the modifications being applied to both animals and human beings one thing is certain. Our world will not be the natural one of our ancestors. Technology cannot be stopped just as the sands of time can not be reversed. We are making the world that future generations will have the blessing or hardship of making due in.
I would really like to know how my fellow @ADSactly society members feel about this new era genetic screening and editing.
When it comes to gene modifications, what dangers do you think should be considered before this becomes everyday practice?
And even if we wanted to stop this madness, do you think this genetic revolution could even be stopped?
Here's a chance for the @ADSactly community to leave their thoughts and opinions on this topic!
Thanks for reading.
Authored by: @techblogger
In-text citations sources:
Advances In Genetics Are Setting Off A Fresh Wave Of Ethical Concerns - Forbes
Meet the Woman Using CRISPR to Breed All-Male “Terminator Cattle” - Technology Review
A new DNA test will look for 190 diseases in your newborn’s genetic code - Technology Review
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