Since it broke through the gene therapy market in 2014, Crispr has had many scientists enthralled with its potential to change biomedicine. From potentially bringing back the Woolly Mammoth from extinction to easily detecting specific disease strains within hours of testing, it has taken the gene therapy sector by complete surprise with its versatility.
On top of the aforementioned examples, early trials have shown it is able to manipulate genomes, potentially giving us the ability to get rid of genes that would predispose us to developing harmful medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Additionally, there has been research made into how it could help advances in agriculture by creating more resistant and nutritious crops. Overall, Crispr’s gene editing abilities have given the biomedical world a lot to be excited about.
This is only the first step in gene enhancement technology. Whilst we are still a ways from being able to completely control the genomes of various species including our own, the latest forays into that sector have yielded interesting results. For the time being, gene enhancement is exactly that –enhancement. Scientists are trying to figure out a way to use this technology without breaching ethical or moral standards, with the line between bona fide scientific advancement and questionable modifications a very thin and blurred one.
Much like stem cell research, the potential behind gene enhancement therapy is almost limitless, but there is a lot of controversy behind how it could be used as a way to introduce eugenics as well as the ability to play God by bringing back or altering certain characteristics and traits of species. This debate risks to be one of the limiting factors for future gene enhancement technology.
Other forms of gene enhancement have been used for centuries, but with a limited scope and ability. Selective breeding of plants and animals has led to the eradication of unwanted genes or traits, whilst crossbreeding has also been used to enhance different ones. Both of these have been used for almost as long as humans have been around, and are a very basic form of gene editing that complements nature’s own natural process – natural selection.
It remains to be seen if it is able to progress past its current laboratory use and into mainstream medicine. However, one thing is sure, wherever gene editing enhancements end up, it will certainly help improve a range of things within biomedical research.