Opinion: CRISPR creates inequality

Currently scientists use CRISPR to edit genes at the embryo stage which is when a single egg is fertilized. At this point CRISPR can only provide a limited efficiency but this technology has potential to become widely used in the future.


Currently scientists use CRISPR to edit genes at the embryo stage which is when a single egg is fertilized. At this point CRISPR can only provide a limited efficiency but this technology has potential to become widely used in the future.

Morgan Tropf, Staff Writer

This past week, CBS “60 Minutes” highlighted George Church’s lab work at Harvard Medical School. Church is currently working on genome editing to make humans immune to all viruses, genetic diseases and even reverse aging.

This all sounds awesome, right? Who doesn’t want to face the effects of aging or illness?

But what is bound to be overlooked is the inequality this creates in our modern society.

Church works with CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), a method originally discovered by Yoshizumi Ishino in 1987. Church said, “We have a strategy by which we can make any cell or any organism resistant to all viruses by changing the genetic code. So, if you change that code enough you now get something that is resistant to all viruses including viruses you never characterized before.”

As more advances in this field are made, many ethical concerns are raised about the practicality of applying this method to humans.

DNA is the basis of life from illness to personality, appearance, athletics, and intelligence. Having the ability to control DNA gives us the ability to control every aspect of our lives.

Human Body Systems and Anatomy & Physiology teacher Eric Davis thinks that using CRISPR for medical reasons is a “no brainer” but using this technology for enhancements is unethical. Davis said, “I would agree with using CRISPR as a medical therapy to prevent diseases like Hunningtons, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia, which are one gene disorders that causes horrible effects. I get worried when we start doing stuff like personality changes or ‘designer babies’; making us bigger, faster, stronger, and even prettier.”

There is a fine line between using genetic editing for a happier, healthier lifestyle and using it for personal preferences or to surpass peers.

AP biology teacher Michael Verdi believes CRISPR can quickly become unethical by altering the patterns of natural selection that have been around for millennia.

Although Verdi is open to using CRISPR for genetic diseases, he is worried about the effect CRISPR will have on society if it becomes widely available. He said, “I think the problem is the inequality that would exist between those who can afford to enhance their children and those cannot afford it and I don’t think that is what we want as a society.”

Church is on top of this issue and also does not want to see this become a monetary divide. Journalist Brit McCandless Farmer reported, “Church does not want to see a world in which big advances in genetic engineering are available only to those who can afford it. He considers equality both when manipulating genes for therapy—like correcting genetic defects to cure genetic diseases—and for enhancement—augmenting genes beyond what is normal.”

Although Church has shown leadership on the issue, many other scientists get caught up in the “race to CRISPR” which poses concerns that these ethical issues will be overlooked. Scientists need to slow down and consider what will happen after they solve this groundbreaking puzzle.

Davis has already seen a genetic mutation become and athletic advantage and is worried that with CRISPR, this mutation can take over dominating the playing field. Davis said, “There is a famous cross country skier from Finland who had a single gene mutation. This mutation allowed him to have more red blood cells which carry more oxygen to his muscles. He was better than the rest of the world by margins, so big that no one has narrowed that margin since.”

Although in this case the mutation was random, CRISPR may allow humans to edit the genome and insert this gene in hopes of building a better athlete. Because of CRISPR’s precise editing, it is likely to be expensive which may give the wealthy an even bigger advantage over other athletes.

The Olympics would be no fun to watch if the United States used CRISPR to modify all of their athletes while a third world country such as Guatemala wouldn’t even have a fighting chance against our elite, designer athletes.

Year-round varsity athlete Catherine Rock is against using CRISPR for such enhancements and claims she would be intimidated on the court with a genetically modified athlete. Rock said, “I would definitely feel at a disadvantage if I was competing against someone who had genetic editing. Then I would be stuck with the genes I was born with while theirs were perfectly modified [to make them stronger mentally or physically] which is unfair in a lot of ways.”

Davis believes that the publicity of CRISPR has many waiting for the method to become widely available and the government must intervene before the situation gets out of hand. Davis said, “The problem is people know about the technology. Unless the government and scientific community actually create legislation- saying this is the ethical use of it, inevitably someone is going to do the experiment and make those enhancements.”