Hacking the Ladder: CRISPR/CAS9 technique can make germline changes

Addgene  CRISPR Cas Plasmids for Genome Editing
Screen cap from a website offering CRISPR associated enzymes packaged within plasmids for sale to researchers. Click to enlarge.

[J]ust what makes me human? Is it my appearance, my brain, my ability to type this article? An evolutionist will say that my genome indicates that I am a 20th century product of a pairing of the Homo sapiens species. A transhumanist might say I’m a transitional transhuman on my way to becoming more.

I say I’m human because God created me as such, born a descendant of Noah, who was himself a descendant of Adam.

Each of us is born with a set of genes (our genome) that are a unique combination of our parents’ genomes–and that this combination, though open to mutation or change through environmental stresses, is basically a ‘read-only’ set of instructions. However, in the realm of modern epigenetics and even metagenetics, Science is now capable of changing my unique instructions even before a child is born, so-called in utero gene ‘therapy’. Moreover, these same scientists also claim the ability to alter not only me but also any offspring I might bear. No, this is not the plot of my next novel–it is genuine, cutting edge, lucrative scientific technique.

In 1987, Yoshizumi Ishino, et al published a paper describing repetitive, short sequences within the iap transcription region of the E. coli genome  In 2000, these short sequences were observed in additional bacterial specimens and named SRSRs (Short Regularly Spaced Repeats) but later renamed CRISPR (They dubbed these elements CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — almost as if someone wanted desperately to give the regions a ‘sexier’ little name that’s easier for the press to promote).

CRISPRs had been relegated to the genomic junkyard by most, but recent epigenetic research appears to have uncovered the reason for these little critters: to allow bacteria to constantly fend off viral attacks. In other words, the CRISPR regions use CAS (Crispr Associated) enzymes to open double stranded DNA (dsDNA) at specific sites and insert a genetic sequence (sort of like I can insert copied text into any point within this post). Until now, DNA editing has been non-specific, and researchers hoped the new sequence inserted close to the intended target region.

This new technique holds promise to be sure, but it also could be misused. Treating disease at the genetic level is one thing–selecting for specific traits or even enhancing human DNA is another. George Church, a self-proclaimed transhumanist recently authored a paper advocating human engineering via the CRISPR technique. In the paper’s abstract, Church has this to say:

Our results establish an RNA-guided editing tool for facile, robust, and multiplexable human genome engineering.

glyberaIn September of this year, Jim Kozubek published an article at the Providence Journal heralding the imminent arrival of gene therapy drugs in the US. His piece titled ‘The Birth of Transhumans’. Glybera, the first ‘gene therapy’ drug is being marketed already in Europe by its maker, UniQure BV, a Dutch company. This same company is now constructing a massive manufacturing plant in Massachusetts. Kozubek is a strong advocate of genetic engineering and cites George Church as saying, “The anti-determinists want to say that DNA is a little side-show, but every disease that’s with us is caused by DNA and can be fixed by DNA.”

Lest you think UniQure is alone in the game, I draw your attention to an article from October 22 of this year in Technology Review about a startup called ‘Spark Therapeutics’ that hopes to rival UniQure. The article leads with this line:

A new biotechnology company will take over human trials of two gene therapies that could offer one-time treatments for a form of childhood blindness and hemophilia B.

Who doesn’t want to prevent childhood blindness and hemophilia? The problem is not with the intent but with the possible outcomes–and with the eventual desire to use such ‘therapies’ not to prevent disease but to cure aging, make us taller, smarter, prettier, leaner?

Transhumanist dreams aside, there’s mega money to be made from DNA therapeutics. Glybera is said to be the world’s most expensive drug, but it will only be needed ONCE.  As Kozubek says, Glybera unleashes its payload, which then “slips inside cells along with its cargo, a shiny new gene.”

Ultimately, it does not matter whether you, dear reader, understand the molecular technique–but you must know and digest this: Genome editing IS REAL. Homo sapiens may soon disappear as a species if God does not intervene.  The Utopian dream could easily turn into a nightmare if proposed genetic therapy and molecular alterations yield not an improved human but a monster.

‘The more we looked into the mystery of Crispr, the more interesting it seemed’ – Science – News – The Independent.