The great variety show

“[…] Appeals to what is natural, as well as appeals to the nature of the human species, sometimes appear in conservative arguments against the use of new reproductive technologies. Michael Sandel, a highly respected philosopher, has appealed to what is “natural” in his case against so-called “enhancement” technologies. These are technologies of different kinds – they might involve drugs, prostheses or genetic alteration – that promise to augment human abilities beyond the norm required for good health. Questions of the morality of enhancement are once again in the newspapers these days, because of the proposition that new “genome editing” technologies such as the CRISPR-Cas9 technique might someday be used not only for controlling inherited diseases but potentially for introducing genes with additional non-therapeutic benefits into the human germline. In an article in Nature earlier this year, a group of scientists working on these techniques cautioned that “Many oppose germline modification on the grounds that permitting even unambiguously therapeutic interventions could start us down a path towards non-therapeutic genetic enhancement. We share these concerns”.


“There are several reasons why we today see a swift growth in the research and practical use of genetics and genomics (the study of the entire genome). The key factors are technological advances, digitisation, the spread of the internet of Things and wearables, and a general pressure on healthcare systems across the world to perform more and optimise their resources. Hence, both the necessities of healthcare and incredible technological advances knock on the door of change.

The technology for sequencing genomes (charting genes) has improved quite a lot in recent years in several crucial areas. The machines for reading genomes have become faster and a lot cheaper to use; today, a genome of good quality can be read in a day for just USD 1,000. When you sequence a genome, you work with enormous volumes of data (3.2 billion base pairs making up 25,000 genes in 23 chromosomes). For this reason, the rapidly declining cost of data and new forms of storage and compression contribute to make the process a lot less challenging than it was just five years ago.”

Genetic editing is like playing God – and what’s wrong with that?

“The announcement that scientists are to be allowed to edit the DNA of human embryos will no doubt provoke an avalanche of warnings from opponents of genetic modification (GM) technology, who will warn that we are “playing God” with our genes.

The opponents are right. We are indeed playing God with our genes. But it is a good thing because God, nature or whatever we want to call the agencies that have made us, often get it wrong and it’s up to us to correct those mistakes.

Sadly, of the half a million or so babies that will be born in the UK this year, about 4% will carry a genetic or major birth defect that could result in an early death, or a debilitating disease that will cause misery for the child and their family. This research will eventually lead to technologies that could edit DNA in the same way that we can edit text – to correct the mistakes before the child’s development goes to its final draft. Its successful implementation could reduce, and eventually eliminate, the birth of babies with severe genetic diseases.”

The Augmented Human Being

“Who decides whether particular species come back? Does it help human beings? It’s a very species-chauvinistic way of looking at it, but if the mammoth can lower the temperature of the permafrost by 15 to 20 degrees and we don’t have a particularly better way of doing it, let’s say, with motorized versions of mammoths, then we might do it. Hopefully, it will involve many countries making this decision maybe at the United Nations level.

Unlike the vaccines where you have medical professionals going door to door, essentially village to village, gene drives and mosquitoes do it themselves, and you could spread it throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They don’t respect borders or wars or any other things that would hold back medical professionals. You probably want to get the buy-in of all the nations, not just the ones that are most desperately in need of the gene drives to eliminate malaria.

It’s an extraordinarily exciting time for scientists, in particular, those involved in reading and writing genomes. It should be an exciting time for everybody and also a scary time for scientists and everybody, where an increasing number of decisions of politicians, CEOs, and regular citizens depend on some technical nuance and expertise. We can no longer say, “Oh, well, I’m just going to vote with my party.” Don’t complain about being excluded from a discussion if you’re excluding yourself from that discussion. That’s the power of the community of intellectuals that are trying to reach out to everybody in the world. It’s not intended to be an exclusive club. It’s intended to be a conversation. ”

23andMe Blames Chipper Mornings on Genetics

“A new study published in the open-access journal Nature Communications says that at least some of your wake-up preference is encoded in your genes. Now, it’s not like anybody needs a diagnostic test for morningness. (Unless you want one. Would you buy one?) No, this study is notable because of who did it: the gene startup 23andMe, using a subset of their vast, user-submitted genetic database.

You remember 23andMe, right? Backed by Google money1, set up to sample the genes people sent them in bottles of saliva and tell them what kind of medical future they might expect? Planned to partner up with big pharmaceutical companies to use all that data to develop new therapies? Got into a big fight with the FDA about whether they were doing diagnostics or not? Right, that 23andMe.”


U.K. Approves First Studies of New Gene Editing Technique CRISPR on Human Embryos

“It’s the first time the technology, which has taken the medical world by storm, has been sanctioned for use on human embryos. The team of scientists led by Kathy Niakan, a biologist at Francis Crick Institute, will attempt to edit out bits of DNA that prevent an embryo from developing properly—which may answer important questions about infertility. The embryo would not be allowed to survive beyond 14 days—meaning they wouldn’t be implanted into a woman’s womb and grown into live babies.

“I promise you she has no intention of the embryos ever being put back into a woman for development,” Robin Lovell-Badge, group leader at the Crick Institute, told TIME. “That wouldn’t be the point. The point is to understand things about basic human biology. We know lots about how the early mouse embryo develops in terms of how various cell lineages give rise to the embryo or to [other] tissue that make up the placenta. But we know very little about how this happens in the human embryo.”

Craig Venter: We Are Not Ready to Edit Human Embryos Yet

“If we can use CRISPR techniques to change the letters of the genetic code known to be associated with rare genetic disorders such as Tay-Sachs disease, Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, cycle cell anemia or ataxia telangiectasia, why wouldn’t we just do so and eliminate the diseases from human existence? The answer is both simple and complex at the same time: just because the techniques have become easier to perform, the ethical issues are not easier. In fact, the reality of the technical ease of CRISPR-based genome editing has changed hypothetical, esoteric arguments limited largely to “bioethicists” to here and now discussions and decisions for all of us.

For me there are three fundamental issues of why we should proceed with extreme caution in this brave new world.”

11 Crazy Gene-Hacking Things We Can Do with CRISPR

“CRISPR/Cas9 is a futuristic gene-editing technology that is either the key to a number of medical breakthroughs or a terrifying step toward an unnatural future of altered organisms. Possibly both. Regardless of what you think about genetic engineering, people are already using the tool to make changes to organisms that could revolutionize agriculture, lead to new treatments for diseases with no cure, or even modify human embryos.

There are multiple gene-editing “tools,” but CRISPR is by far the most cost-effective and precise. It works by injecting a DNA construct with three major components into a living organism. The components are the Cas9 enzyme that cuts or deletes a segment of DNA, a sequence of RNA that guides the Cas9 to the correct location to cut, and a new DNA template to repair the cut with.

At the end of 2014, about 600 research papers had been published that mentioned CRISPR, and interest in the technology is only growing. Here are 11 things we could achieve with CRISPR—or already have.”

Geneticists Are Concerned Transhumanists Will Use CRISPR on Themselves

“Transhumanists, many of whom believe science can be used to ultimately conquer death, look at CRISPR as an important part of the toolkit we can use to transcend our natural bodies. Since as early as 2004, transhumanist groups have opposed the idea of bans on human genetic editing research. Zoltan Istvan, who is running for president as a Transhumanist candidate (and who writes an occasional column for Motherboard), says CRISPR holds great promise for the human race.

“Despite some people saying CRISPR technology could lead to dangerous outcomes for the human race, the positive possibilities far outweigh any dangers,” Istvan told me in an email. “With this type of gene editing tech we have a chance to wipe out hereditary diseases and conditions that plague humanity. And we could also modify the human being to be much stronger and functional than it is. CRISPR could be one of the most important scientific advancements of the 21st Century. We should embrace it.”

Genes for a longer, healthier life found

“Researchers at ETH Zurich and the JenAge consortium from Jena have now systematically gone through the genomes of three different organisms in search of the genes associated with the ageing process that are present in all three species – and thus derived from the genes of a common ancestor. Although they are found in different organisms, these so-called orthologous genes are closely related to each other, and they are all found in humans, too.

In order to detect these genes, the researchers examined around 40,000 genes in the nematode C. elegans, zebra fish and mice. By screening them, the scientists wanted to determine which genes are regulated in an identical manner in all three organisms in each comparable ageing stage – young, mature and old; i.e. either are they upregulated or downregulated during ageing.”

Take an online DNA test and you could be revealing far more than you realise

“Getting your DNA sequenced is now so cheap and easy that you don’t need to see a medical professional. A variety of online companies are offering direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests for health or recreational purposes. These tests claim to detect a wide range of characteristics, from the risk of diseases such as breast cancer or Alzheimer’s or other conditions such as baldness, to specific talents or even romantic compatibility. But when you purchase one of these tests there’s a good chance you don’t know everything you’ve agreed to.

The DTC industry is new, growing and largely unregulated. As with many online companies, genetic testing firms rely on contracts to govern relations with their customers. Contracts are everywhere online, appearing as terms and conditions that you agree to with a click of a button or even just by browsing a website – and so they are known as clickwrap or browsewrap contracts.”

CRISPR Successfully Treats Muscular Dystrophy in Adult Mammals For the First Time

Researchers from Duke University have successfully used CRISPR to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This breakthrough is a world first for the new genetic technology, marking the first time that CRISPR was used to treat a genetic disease in a living and fully developed mammal.

In short, this is a progressive muscle-wasting disease that affects boys—most with the condition are in wheelchairs by age 10 and die young from breathing problems or heart failure.

To break this down a bit more, duchenne muscular dystrophy is a condition wherein the body is unable to produce dystrophin, a long protein chain that works to bind the interior of muscles to its surrounding support structure. Without it, muscle is inevitably shred, and they can deteriorate to the point where they become effectively useless.

The method, if used in humans successfully, could save many, many lives.

Scientific Prospects for Curing Aging

Joao Pedro de Magalha looks at scientific prospects for curing aging in the Rejuvenation Research Journal.

Joao Pedro de Magalha does not consider the breakthroughs in gene and genome editing that are occurring with CRISPR.

His conclusion :
At the current rate of progress, radical life extension will take centuries. A revolution in medicine will be necessary to develop the combination of therapies necessary to stop human aging in this century. If information, analytic, and synthetic technologies continue to improve exponentially, our capacity to understand biological systems will eventually reach a turning point, in which case a scientific revolution will indeed occur.”

Could this be humanity’s LAST century? Expert says ‘re-engineering our children’ will lead to the creation of a new species

“It won’t be war, politics or poverty that eventually wipes out humanity.

According to Seth Shostak, our end will come about as a result of designer babies and artificial intelligence.

The outspoken director of the Search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti) Institute believes developments in these areas will lead to new ‘alien’ species.

Alien Species To Replace Humans By 2100, Says SETI Research Head

The 21st century could be the last one for humans, warns a senior astronomer. The vast scientific advancements may someday take a toll on humans with alien species to replace them by 2100.

Seth Shostak of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California argues that designer babies and artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to the creation of a new dominant species. The advancements in the two fields may lead to the emergence of “alien species” in the next century.

Take an online DNA test and you could be revealing far more than you realise

“Getting your DNA sequenced is now so cheap and easy that you don’t need to see a medical professional. A variety of online companies are offering direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests for health or recreational purposes. These tests claim to detect a wide range of characteristics, from the risk of diseases such as breast cancer or Alzheimer’s or other conditions such as baldness, to specific talents or even romantic compatibility. But when you purchase one of these tests there’s a good chance you don’t know everything you’ve agreed to.

The DTC industry is new, growing and largely unregulated. As with many online companies, genetic testing firms rely on contracts to govern relations with their customers. Contracts are everywhere online, appearing as terms and conditions that you agree to with a click of a button or even just by browsing a web.”

Forget about designer babies – gene editing won’t work on complex traits like intelligence

“CRISPR could also be used to modify DNA in human embryos, but the question is whether this should be allowed. Among the concerns scientists and bioethicists have highlighted are heritable gene modifications and the use of this technology to create “designer babies.” CRISPR provides new opportunities for disease treatment and prevention, but with unknown and potentially substantial risks that warrant an ethical discussion. And this discussion should be rooted in an understanding of what can and cannot be meaningfully edited.

I study the genetic prediction of complex diseases and traits. Research in my field has consistently shown that human traits and common diseases are not genetic enough to be predicted using DNA tests. For the same reasons, it will be impossible to successfully program the presence of traits in embryos.

Any concerns that CRISPR could taken a step further to enhance babies by selecting favorable traits such as intelligence and athleticism may be unwarranted.”

“Ethical concerns over genetic modification are not new, particularly when it comes to humans. While we don’t think genome editing gives rise to any completely new ethical concerns, there is more to gene editing than just genetic modification.

First, there is no clear consensus as to whether genome editing is just an incremental step forward, or whether it represents a disruptive technology capable of overthrowing the current orthodoxy. If this is the case – and it’s a very real prospect – then we will need to carefully consider genome editing’s ethical implications, including whether current regulation is adequate.

Second, there are significant ethical concerns over the potential scope and scale of genome editing modifications. As more researchers use CRISPR to achieve more genome changes, the implications shift. Our consideration of a technology that is rarely used and then only in specific cases will differ from one that is widely used and put to all sorts of uses.”

Curing disease by repairing faulty genes

“The CRISPR system relies on cellular machinery that bacteria use to defend themselves from viral infection. Researchers have previously harnessed this system to create gene-editing complexes composed of a DNA-cutting enzyme called Cas9 and a short RNA that guides the enzyme to a specific area of the genome, directing Cas9 where to make its cut.

When Cas9 and the short guide RNA targeting a disease gene are delivered into cells, a specific cut is made in the genome, and the cells’ DNA repair processes glue the cut back together, often deleting a small portion of the genome. However, if a corrected copy of the gene is also delivered when the cut is made, the DNA repair can lead to correction of the disease gene, permanently repairing the genome.”

Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative Is The Ultimate Big-Data Project

Modern medicine is incredibly data-intensive, especially now that doing a full genetic sequencing of every patient is becoming affordable and more prevalent. New efforts to develop tailored treatments for illnesses—known as precision medicine—will require collecting and sharing data on a hard-to-comprehend scale. That’s the biggest takeaway from the White House Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) Summit.

Como a edição do DNA pode mudar a nossa espécie

“O Escritório de Patentes e Marcas dos Estados Unidos (USPTO, na sigla em inglês) começa a analisar nesta quinta-feira (10/03) quem deve receber a patente para usar a revolucionária tecnologia de edição genética CRISPR-Cas9. O método permite manipular genes com facilidade e precisão sem precedentes – inclusive em seres humanos.

A possibilidade de que a CRISPR-Cas9 seja usada em breve para a terapia genética em humanos tem causado frenesi na comunidade científica. Ao mesmo tempo, muitos se perguntam: os seres humanos deveriam ter controle sobre a própria genética e reescrever o DNA para gerações futuras?”