Over the years, scientific developments has helped in improving the physical, mental and social well being of the global population. Though many of these developments were seen with apprehensions in the first place, further research and tests have often proved beneficial to the mankind. Genetic engineering is one such field, where day today developments offer immense hope as well ethical dilemmas.
The recent development of genetically modified mosquitoes carrying anti-malarial genes is being looked upon with much excitement. This could be instrumental in wiping out the disease from Earth’s surface, and thus improving the life quality of millions. It is believed that other vector borne diseases could also be treated in the same manner.
Enhancing productivity of animals and crop species is another area where the genetic modifications are hopeful of providing better results. It is expected that cumulative efforts across the globe can help in attaining the proposed sustainable development goals too.
However, there is another angle to this whole field of genetic research, which has been existing since the initial days. And it is the repercussions and ethical questions such developments would trigger, regarding the alteration of human genes. It is the combination of gene drive, i.e the method of pushing man-made genetic changes through wild populations, along with gene editing, that is raising questions on the limits of science.
Gene drive multiplies the number of modified genes with each generation. A modified gene inherited from, say, the father, actively pass on alteration to the corresponding gene inherited from the mother. Under ideal conditions, the genes would nearly double in frequency with each generation. Though the concept has been there since 2003, it is the development of powerful gene editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9 that is raising apprehensions.
The CRISPR-Cas9 technology is similar to the computer’s cut-copy-paste method, with desirable genes getting, copied or cut, and pasted on the next generation gene. If unchecked, this could easily lead to the development of an altered population with desirable traits alone, ie. the designer babies.
However, illicit usage of the technology is possible for developing bio weapons or even human weapons. It is in this context that,experts and scientists are asking for better regulatory mechanisms to monitor the progress and implementation of the process.