The current book tells the previous CRISPR story

Germans protest against genetic engineering in Berlin in 2015.Photo credit: Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

Editing of Humanity: The Crispr Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing Kevin Davies Pegasus (2020)

Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered in 2012 that an old bacterial immune system can be realigned to manipulate the genetic sequences of living things. Today thousands of organisms are constructed using CRISPR technology. In theory, it could cure hereditary diseases, increase food security and counteract the effects of climate change. It is already known that twin girls with CRISPR-edited genomes were born in China.

As the founding director of Editing Nature, a platform that supports responsible decisions in genetic engineering, I’ve watched CRISPR technologies expand and transform at a dizzying rate. Sometimes it feels like we’re on a roller coaster ride that no one remembers buying a ticket for. And many societal questions remain unanswered – for example, who should have a voice in deciding whether to use CRISPR and who will have access to its benefits.

I am Edit humanityKevin Davies tries to shed light on the twists and turns of the CRISPR journey. As editor-in-chief of The CRISPR Journal and founding editor of Natural geneticsHe is very familiar with the events and those affected. The result is both a historical record and a map that invites readers to learn from the past in order to navigate the present. However, it’s only part of the CRISPR story: Davies leaves many sensitive ethical questions unanswered.

He’s an all-star cast: along with Doudna and Charpentier, there will be appearances by bioengineer Feng Zhang and synthetic biologist George Church, who were the first to use CRISPR gene editing in eukaryotic cells, including those of humans, resulting in an ongoing one Patent dispute since 2016. And Davies highlights hundreds of other researchers who have helped to enable editing of the genome and its diverse applications in microorganisms, plants and animals. When microbiologist Francisco Mojica was studying salt-loving archaea in Spain in the 1990s, he noticed the unusual genetic repetitions that are now a tell-tale sign of an ancient, acquired immune system. A ten year journey followed to understand the role of these repetitions that eventually led to the coining of the term CRISPR.

Davies takes up the history of genetic engineering and gene therapy prior to CRISPR out of interest and caution. In the 1970s, American doctor Stanfield Rogers and hematologist Martin Cline administered untested gene therapies for rare hereditary diseases: Rogers treated girls in Germany, two of whom had developmental disorders due to argininaemia, and Kline treated young women with β-thalassemia in Israel and Israel Germany Germany Italy. Both researchers went overseas to bypass U.S. institutional approval.

In recent years, international experts have pushed for more ethical control of gene editing and in 2015 reached a consensus that human sperm, eggs or embryos should not be gene-edited. But in 2018, He Jiankui described to an astonished gathering of scientists, ethicists and journalists in Hong Kong how his team (which included Chinese and US scientists) had human embryos constructed with CRISPR genes to protect against HIV infection. Twin girls, known only by the pseudonyms Lulu and Nana, were born with any genetically modified cell, including the reproductive cells that could pass the change on to future generations.

Davies’ narration of this disturbing saga is gripping, even for someone like me who chased it when it happened. Davies points with his fingers at his circle of US confidants for failing to stop such an ethically dubious experiment (nature 566427; 2019). His repetition of government and institutional involvement in these experiments, when repeated, left an uncanny sense of history: the majority of the non-consenting rogue gene therapy participants now and in the past have been young women and girls.

Despite this abuse of power, CRISPR continues to drive advances in the clinic, on site and in the environment. Davies offers refined descriptions of his potential for curing conditions ranging from sickle cell disease to cystic fibrosis. He is concerned with the question of how CRISPR can make tastier tomatoes, harder oranges, and polled cattle, although he could have explored more deeply how that could transform global food supply chains. China, for example, has invested billions of dollars in CRISPR gene editing technology to feed the nation and increase exports.

Davies makes complex technology clear, concise, and engaging. However, it does not pay equal attention to its environmental, social, political and ethical impact. The chapter on the intrusion of genetic changes into the environment, such as mosquitoes to suppress malaria vectors, does not mention whose value systems will influence decisions about the use of such CRISPR-based “gene drives” in the wild.

Nor does Davies fully address the inadequacies of regulators or intergovernmental agencies. Most do not use multidisciplinary expertise and affected communities effectively to make decisions about CRISPR. Not a single member of the World Health Organization’s Human Genes Advisory Committee is physically disabled. However, a focus of this group is on developing global governance standards for CRISPR-based therapies that could one day eliminate certain disabilities such as deafness and dwarfism.

Narratives shape perception and can be used to maintain the status quo or to imagine new types of futures. I was relieved to see that the book gives contemporary women scholars the leading roles they deserve. However, I was troubled by an insensitive remark that Chinese scientists are likely not around and (given the ongoing protests against racist police brutality) a lengthy metaphor comparing bacterial immune defense to police surveillance. CRISPR’s ability to transform the collective human experience requires a social context defined by different perspectives, such as those found in Angela Sainis superior, Françoise Baylis Inheritance changed, Kim TallBears Native American DNACharles Manns The magician and the prophet und Alondra Nelsons The social life of the DNA.

Edit humanity, one of several popular books about CRISPR that has just been published or is in preparation, clearly shows the terrain of this new world. But as with any card, it can’t tell us how to get from A to B. Moving into a healthy and just future requires an ethical compass guided by a rich chorus of lived experience. History is being made and everyone deserves a vote.

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These were the details of the news The current book tells the previous CRISPR story for this day. We hope that we have succeeded by giving you the full details and information. To follow all our news, you can subscribe to the alerts system or to one of our different systems to provide you with all that is new.

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