CRISPR

Don't Overregulate CRISPR Genome Editing

"Governments should follow the principle of regulatory parsimony," two bioethicists argue.

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Rik Trottier/Dreamstime

The recently developed genome editing technique CRISPR enables researchers to make very precise modifications in the genes of nearly any organism. Researchers are racing to use the technique to create drought-resistant corn, reduced-gluten wheat, and tastier tomatoes. Research on CRISPR-based treatments for maladies such as cancers, heart disease, and Duchenne muscular dystophy is advancing rapidly.

It looks like the current wave of new genetic engineering techniques will largely escape the bans, moratoria, and overregulation that greeted the first wave in the 1970s. More than 40 years ago, the announcement that researchers were able to splice together genes taken from different organisms provoked handwringing over scary scenarios in which infectious cancers break out from biotech labs and activist screeds railing against "unbridled scientific and technological progress" and creeping "corporate hegemony." No epidemics of biotech-generated infectious cancers have occurred, and the global biotech industry now consists of an estimated 77,000 companies with $400 billion in annual sales.

Regulators seem to be learning from that earlier overreaction. This month the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would for the most part not regulate new crops created with CRISPR. That decision opens the way for development of a vibrant new biotech crop and seed industry.

University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Jonathan Moreno and Amy Gutman, former head of President Obama's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, make the case for regulatory restraint in a recent Foreign Affairs article. Gutman and Moreno avoid the usual fatuous call for "democratic" decisions about whether and how to deploy new technologies, instead offering sensible proposals for how to proceed safely with CRISPR-based research. They conclude that regulators should stay out of the way for now.

One example Gutman and Moreno consider is gene drives, CRISPR-assisted interventions than can, say, make a population of mosquitoes immune to the malaria parasite or cause the extinction of a noxious rat species by favoring the birth of males. Gutman and Moreno reject the demand by some activists for a total ban on gene drives:

In lieu of formal regulations on gene drives, scientists could agree to build safety measures into gene-drive systems, such as alterations that would cancel out previous drives or gene modifications designed to grow less frequent over time, so that successive generations would express the gene less and less once the original problem has been sufficiently ameliorated. Researchers will also need to be transparent about their work and consult local communities to gain consent before introducing gene drives into the wild.

Gutman and Moreno say existing regulations for biomedical research should be adequate to address CRISPR-based treatments. (Let's set aside for now the question of whether even that much is needed for current therapeutic compounds and techniques.) But lots of folks worry that CRISPR might be used to correct genetic flaws in human embryos. The supposed bioethical horror of using CRISPR to fix genetic mutations is that it would interfere with the "human germline"; that is, children who are born with corrected genes will no longer be able to pass along to their own progeny the genetic disease that had previously afflicted their family.

Gutman and Moreno observe that "in 2017, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended that researchers exercise caution when it comes to efforts to prevent disease transmission through gene editing but said that such work should be allowed to go forward, albeit under 'stringent oversight.'" In other words, no ban. "At some point," Gutman and Moreno write, "governments may have to pass laws to prevent unscrupulous researchers from abusing gene editing. For now, however, the science is nowhere near advanced enough for policymakers to know what kinds of measures would work."

Gutman and Moreno suggest that "governments should follow the principle of regulatory parsimony." Ultimately, they argue, "the most effective standards for gene-editing research will come from the scientific community itself," creating a process that is "most likely to enable CRISPR and the next generation of research breakthroughs to reach their full potential." Happily, many modern biotech researchers recognize that even voluntarily adopted rules can unnecessarily stifle the development of vital new technologies and treatments.

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39 responses to “Don't Overregulate CRISPR Genome Editing

  1. I’m wondering the same thing that everyone is, but is too afraid to ask. What genes do we need to edit to make boobies bigger?

    1. If eating doesn’t make them bigger, just get implants dude.

      1. I’m disgusted that you think implants are the same.

        1. I didn’t say they were the same. I’m just saying that they’re a more predictable alternative. Besides, your breasts are fine the way they are, BUCS.

          1. I don’t need you coming ’round here and telling me what I think about my breasts.

            1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

              This is what I do… http://www.jobs63.com

      2. Eating makes them fat in general though! A chick getting fat so her cup size goes up is not a worthwhile tradeoff. Popping out kids, combined with a diet after, can leave you ahead though.

    2. Drink more IPAs.

      1. A Faustian bargain if there ever was one.

    3. Better question: what do we need to do make homegrown futas? Nothing’s hotter than a girl with a (feminine) dick.

      1. Start a CRISPR firm dedicated to the cause!

        Might be an ethical issue involved with creating/modifying humans purely for the satisfaction of carnal desires.

        “Why was I born? What is the meaning of my life?”
        “Good news! You’re finally 18! Drop your pants, Yellow Tony is on the way!”

        1. Seems to me that we are making SOME sort of slow but semi-vaguely-reasonable progress on GMO food plants. GMO food ANIMALS on the other hand, are so glacially slow in getting approved, that researchers are just flat-out throwing in the towel, and quitting. Research “enviro-pig”, for example. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enviropig … Would have been good for the environment, but over-regulation (literally) killed the pigs.

          Meanwhile, with the advent of CRISPR-CAS9, some brave researchers will put more such projects into the pipeline.

          Along those lines, in China and other parts of the Far East, they like to eat dogs. And when they are deep-fried, they like them crisply fried. If we “GMO” the dogs for better “mouth feel” along those lines, I would recommend a catchy brand name?
          ?
          ?
          ?
          “Crisper Canines!”

          1. “Crisper Canines!”

            I like chewy bacon, so does that mean I’d prefer soggy canine?

            Interesting thing about the Enviropig. It doesn’t shock me that it flopped; I have a gut apprehension about animal GMOs that I don’t feel with plants. It’s probably just knee-jerk. We’ve selectively bred for millennia with a lot of success, so we can certainly build a better beast.

            “The University of Guelph killed the pigs, from the 10th generation of the project, in June 2012 [..]”

            Hopefully they all got tossed in a deep freeze and later eaten, but there’s probably a regulation against eating research specimens.

            1. “I like chewy bacon, so does that mean I’d prefer soggy canine?”

              Obvious brand name then! “Soggy Doggy”! Maybe we could get the Soggy Bottom Boys to sing a jingo for the Soggy Doggies! And if they get stuck in yer gut, you say, “Git along, little doggies!”


  2. The supposed bioethical horror of using CRISPR to fix genetic mutations is that it would interfere with the “human germline”; that is, children who are born with corrected genes will no longer be able to pass along to their own progeny the genetic disease that had previously afflicted their family.

    Pakistan hardest hit?

  3. I think when it comes to this stuff, the real problem is dumb ass people (lefties, basically) who are afraid of them irrationally, not government regulation.

    Next time you are shopping, see how many products are labeled “GMO Free”, like it’s some badge of honor, when it should be a badge of shame. Same with “Organic”

    Yet it won’t be the 1st world countries facing the problems, but the 3rd world.

    1. I buy “organic” only when there’s no other good choice… Like with broccoli at Cosco’s…

      I am waiting to see bottled water labeled, “GMO free”, I bet they’ll do that soon!

      1. “Contains no DNA!”

    2. RE: “I think when it comes to this stuff, the real problem is dumb ass people (lefties, basically) who are afraid of them irrationally,…”

      Anti-biotech hysteria is at least as common on the right as on the left. Anti-vax is mostly right-wing. And there’s plenty of anti-GMO-food on the right. And the whole fake-news “Planned Parenthood sells body-parts TO BIOTECH RESEARCHERS” thing is exclusively right-wing.

  4. I find it odd that someone who is in favor of compulsory vaccination (or ‘compulsory’ up to whatever line) unabashedly supports unregulated (externally) gene drives as proposed. Arguably, influenza is just a form of naturally-occurring gene drive and if I happen to prefer modifying my immune system with it naturally, the onus is on everyone who wants to avoid doing so to get vaccinated and accommodate me, no?

    I’m not necessarily calling for more regulations on CRISPR, I just find it interesting that people must be held accountable for the diseases they incur and propagate, happenstance-wise, that they could conceivably have prevented but people deliberately striving to do nearly the exact same thing should be given more free reign until the unintended consequences set in.

    Dopey, uneducated immigrants who don’t even have their measles vaccinations may kill us all with bird flu but scientists specifically trying to re-engineer the immune system of the entire human race to combat HIV couldn’t possibly slip up with such complex mechanisms and kill a bunch of people who wouldn’t have contracted HIV anyway. Maybe your feelings about bureaucratic competency and doomsday pandemics have changed but, if not, it seems like a very contradictory position to hold.

    1. It’s certainly a consideration. Most of my hesitation regarding gene therapy is just knee-jerk, gut instinct stuff. I absolutely don’t see any manner of government regulation helping to attenuate the various risks, though.

      I hope scientists agree to use an abundance of caution going forward, and I have little reason to doubt that they will. We already culture super-bacteria and handle extremely dangerous material with virtually no problems. As for the unanticipated consequences? That’s intrinsic to any new technology. The internet became a behemoth absent regulation, and now look–it’s being used to subvert democracy!! (/s)

      I can see vaccines self-regulating. Once measles and shit has a serious comeback, people will start getting vaccines again. Is it fair that some kids who’d’ve otherwise lived had to die before the feedback mechanism kicked in? No; it sucks, but an awful lot of people have died that wouldn’t had cars or guns not been invented.

      I see the irony, though. The risk of disease outbreak is shared among all unvaccinated people. The weight of an individual’s mistake is limited, but with gene therapy a single person can literally end the world.

      1. We already culture super-bacteria and handle extremely dangerous material with virtually no problems.

        As someone who was responsible for diagnosing and culturing MRSA, that’s not what the scientific and/or medical community says. Not that we’ve had some manner of leak or breach but that nosocomial infections of pathogens are both a given and a problem.

        I can see vaccines self-regulating. Once measles and shit has a serious comeback, people will start getting vaccines again.

        I agree with this. My understanding is that Ron disagrees. A more in-depth portion of the issue is that statists and scientists both like to say “We, as a species, conquered Polio.” and you can’t exactly do that credibly and/or practically if people keep getting their polio vaccinations. The vaccine market as it pertains to annihilating a disease *requires* top-down control.

        I see the irony, though. The risk of disease outbreak is shared among all unvaccinated people. The weight of an individual’s mistake is limited, but with gene therapy a single person can literally end the world.

        Not just this, the unvaccinated people passively incur responsibility for an outbreak that mostly/only affects them but the subjects and gene therapists may actively contribute to an outbreak for which “they are not responsible” and which does not affect them directly. I’m not ascribing guilt where there is none, but the exemption a priori is a bit of an inversion of libertarian principles.

    2. Gene drives don’t spread from adult to unrelated adult, but only from adult to (100% of) their children. The worst case for a gene drive accidentally doing something bad is “One of your 32 great-great-grandparents got a defective gene-drive treatment, so you and 100% of your descendants will have Huntington’s disease.”, rather than “You got exposed to bodily fluids of someone with bad gene-drive, so now you have it too.”

      Which makes it terrific for wiping out species with short reproductive cycles (gene drive to make all mosquitos male), but not a huge threat to humanity in general even if they bungle it up epicly.

      1. Contrarily, for animals with long lifecycles it may take decades and multiple generations before consequences show, and continued modification of a seemingly-stable genome could introduce a novel, unanticipated effect.

        What if a change we make leaves us more susceptible to a pathogen? Sickle cell anemia improves malaria resistance, so a treated population would be at higher risk of a pandemic, especially after the disease has been mostly contained.

        Modification of infectious agents could conceivably turn catastrophic, but I don’t see that being any more of an issue than it already is with our storage of dangerous pathogens.

        What about if a change caused a cascade of ecological corrections that affected our food supplies? Like we kill a bunch of mosquitos, so the bats switch to bees, bees go extinct, how pollinate?

        I do see how a detrimental change would ‘die out’ if it inhibited reproduction, and therefore it provides a reliable method of self-containment…

        1. Contrarily, for animals with long lifecycles it may take decades and multiple generations before consequences show, and continued modification of a seemingly-stable genome could introduce a novel, unanticipated effect.

          (Some of) Our ancestors’ relatively larger size and paler skin allowed them to survive in harsher climates, develop a better immune system and dominate Europe and more. Now that the pathogens are largely gone and the globe is not as ice-age like as it was then, our larger body mass rather directly causes our cardiovascular system to fail earlier.

          All of this is a bit protracted in an sort of sense of cognition and reasonably constitutes an abuse of the precautionary principle or FUD. My point is that Ron and many others are rather avid pro-Vaxxers, citing public commons and responsibility for infection as justification for their policies. Well, in this case, “science” as a monolith isn’t (yet) a part of the public commons and the responsiblity for infection is being foisted on them.

      2. Gene drives don’t spread from adult to unrelated adult, but only from adult to (100% of) their children.

        You don’t do much genetic work do you? You can’t just shower people with DNA, pop generally a DNA pill yet. It needs a vector. The more human cell-like that vector is, the harder it is to produce and maintain as a product and effectively transform an organism. Viral vectors are common and the notion that a change, imparted into mammalian cells via a non-viral construct couldn’t possibly work with any viral construct is exceedingly naive. Even if you move beyond all of that and actually get to a point where you can shower people with DNA or pop a pill well, then you have an airborne or blood borne construct that can tranform non-immune people’s DNA.

        1. Obviously you haven’t seen Rampage yet. 😉

  5. Like many people I wonder if I can back edit using CRIPR; I would like to be smarter and have a bigger penis.

    1. Dude, those two genes are on the same chromosome and they are mutually exclusive.

      1. while(isRacist==0) do
        – sub isthisRacist;
        – if isRacist = 1 then
        — echo(‘That’s racist!’);
        — break;
        – end if
        loop

      2. You only have so much blood, and both organs require blood to function.

  6. The name is suppose to be Shart Stain.

    1. Typing on phone and autocorrect, plus I don’t have my glasses on.

      1. You can change your usename in options.

        1. Huh.

          I totally thought you guys just made new accounts all the time. I was concerned about Red Tony losing his password and/or getting banned twice in a month. Not that it would really be surprising..

          1. Yeah, you can just do that.

            Though I’ve only changed my name once, and really am only known as BestUsedCarSales. There was an very early period in my posting when I used my real name before I was like “Nah, that’s stupid.”

  7. Ron did not mention one promising area in gene editing using CRISPR-Cas9 system. Control of malaria and possibly other insect borne disease. Genetically engineered female mosquitoes introduced into the population with a gene drived system could be revolutionary.

    The potential is way beyond nets or insecticides.

  8. Here’s the thing: Genetically modified is neither good or bad in and of itself. A lot of you have the flawed idea that anything we’ve fucked with is automatically better… But that’s not true.

    Example: We have done all kinds of amazing things with chemistry, and other modern sciences. Most of it is AWESOME. You know what wasn’t awesome? BPA that puts synthetic estrogen like compounds in your body. NOT GOOD for men or women. Not enough to kill anybody probably, but not good for your health. Or Asbestos. Or lead in gasoline. Etc etc etc.

    The problem with a lot of GMO produce is the same as it is with conventional AND most organically grown stuff… A lot of our modern breeds of produce have fewer nutrients, and inferior taste, to the way things were grown saaay 100 years ago. We’ve traded in nutrients and taste for fast growing and cheap.

    Lots of GMO stuff seems to be just trying to take this type of thinking up a notch. That’s not bad per se, but it’s understandable why some people wouldn’t be stoked.

    We COULD engineer some truly amazing GMO crops, but nothing on the market is all that amazing for a first worlder. The pros have been overstated in terms of yields and lower pesticide use, and other than golden rice none of them offer any health benefits. I have high hopes for the future, but at this point GMO stuff is pretty useless/lame. We’re still over hyping the equivalent to the 2×86… I’ll be impressed when we get to the Pentium III maybe.

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