Several years ago when we began writing and research for FOXP5 I occasionally wrote about my increasing awareness of how genetic engineering could be used by rogue nations and terrorists.
Last week President Obama's science and security advisers urged him to rapidly create a bio-defense program that might reduce our vulnerability. Their letter is worth reading. This is an issue that President Obama and President-Elect Trump should collaborate on now.
Here is a key passage from the advisers' letter followed by the URL for the entire text as well as the URL for an article from the MIT Technology Review.
"We, your President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), urge you to take immediate action to ensure that the Nation has the ability to meet these challenges. In this letter, we recommend measures aimed at decreasing the probability and impact of a future biological attack against the United States. Our recommendations are divided into actions with near-, medium-, and long-term goals.
All of these actions should be undertaken now to ensure that the capabilities will be ready when needed."
GENE EDITING FOR DUMMIES--this title does not exist but we are now close to having gene editing available to the kids next door as well as terrorists, rogue nations, and mad scientists.
I've noted several times in the past year that one of the developers of the easiest gene editing process has said such a lab could be available for less than $2,000. That may be way over-priced.
Below are excerpts from an article about a new study of gene editing availability and its consequences. Homo sapiens is rapidly acquiring the powers to become Homo divinus.
[A study by Nuffield Council on Bioethics ] found that the materials needed to perform basic experiments were available to enthusiasts outside academia and established labs. This year, one firm began to sell a kit for £100 to DIY biology interest groups that allowed them to render the common soil microbe, E coli, resistant to the antibiotic streptomycin.
The report goes on to say that genetic technology has become so powerful that nations need to decide whether or not doctors should ever be allowed to modify the human species.
While the creation of GM humans is not on the horizon yet, the risks and benefits of modifying a person’s genome - and having those changes pass on to future generations - are so complex that they demand urgent ethical scrutiny, the review found.
“This could transform our range of expectations and ambitions about how humans control our world,” said Andrew Greenfield, a geneticist and chair of the Nuffield Council’s working group. “Although most uses so far have been in research, the potential applications seem to be almost unlimited.”
. . .
Because Crispr-cas9 does not leave any traces, meat and other products from GM animals could find its way to market without being labelled. Meanwhile, the simplicity and low cost of Crispr-cas9 means amateurs in the home can now perform their own experiments.
. . .
Scientists have already begun to edit the genes of human embryos, but only for basic research. Earlier this year, researchers in China tried to add HIV resistance to human IVF embryos which had been donated to science when tests found them to be unviable. The experiments did not achieve their goal, but highlighted how difficult the procedure was likely to be in humans.
In 2015 another Chinese team became the first in the world to edit human embryos, when they tried, and failed, to modify a gene that causes beta-thalassaemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder. Again, the work was performed on abnormal IVF embryos donated to research.
[Kaufman’s note: the author does not cite any source for the claim that the embryos were abnormal IVF embryos and donated for research. Viable embryos would be easy to find. Without inviting any political debate, I suggest readers recall the debate about aborted embryos at Planned Parenthood, simply as an example of one potentially large source of viable embryos--abortion.]
. . .
The report notes that in the future, it may be possible to enhance people with genes from other organisms, for example to improve night vision and sense of smell.
“It is only right that we acknowledge where this new science may lead and explore the possible paths ahead to ensure the one on which we set out today is the right one,” said Yeung.
Gene editing cures blindness--that's the hope behind the news that scientists have restored sight to blind mice. The way they did it validates the science readers find in The Hunt For FOXP5. "The condition, which affects about one in 4,000 people, occurs when a faulty gene causes retinal cells to gradually die off, leading to blindness. The scientists targeted the retinal cells by injecting a virus, carrying a package of gene-editing instructions, into the eyes of blind three-week-old rats."
Instead of revealing the plot, I leave it to readers to find the parallels.
The URL for the article on gene editing and blindness is: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/nov/16/breakthrough-as-gene-editing-technique-restores-sight-to-blind-animals