The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded for the extraordinary discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 for genetic engineering.
Two brilliant scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier, a Frenchwoman and Jennifer Doudna, an American have been named to share the credit for identifying and developing this ingenious genome-editing tool. Since its discovery, CRISPR-Cas9 has considerably changed the life sciences. Described as “genetic scissors”, this technique makes it very easy to change DNA, as simple as using “cut and paste” in a wordprocessing software.
CRISPR/Cas9 works like a “head-hunter” to locate a specific DNA target: once located, the abnormal or defective gene is either removed, inhibited, or replaced with another DNA sequence. Since the technique is fast, easy and cheap, all molecular biology labs around the world are using it today.
Since its discovery, this technique has enhanced scientists’ understanding and treatment of many different human pathologies. Over 30 clinical trials are being conducted throughout the world with CRISPR/Cas 9 being used to modify defective or diseased cells in blood and immune diseases, cancer, and even in an attempt to correct blindness.
Nevertheless, since the technique can also be applied to germ cells (spermatozoids, oocytes, and human embryos), there is a potential eugenic risk for misusing CRISPR/Cas 9 to “pick and choose” desirable traits for future designer babies.
Regrettably, this red line has already been crossed in China when two female genetically modified babies were born in 2018, thus provoking a legitimate worldwide outcry of indignation.
Ever since the discovery of this prodigious tool, Alliance VITA has remained vigilant, explaining and warning about potential transgressions, and by asking legislators to define safeguards against using it indiscriminately.
New research projects to create transgenic embryos are already looming on the horizon with the current bioethics bill in France, if article 17 is approved at second reading by the Senate.
Sadly, this ethical violation promotes the idea that human embryos are nothing more than raw material for research. This would later inevitably lead to clinical research trials aimed at giving birth to these genetically modified children.