Gene Editing: We Have A Question to Answer

Scientific journal Nature reported that on October 28th of last year, a team of Chinese doctors led by oncologist Lu You at Sichuan University became the first in the world to use the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing software. According to Nature and as confirmed by CNN, these doctors “delivered the modified cells into a patient with aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial at the West China Hospital”. The hope for this experiment was to see if CRISPR-Cas9 could improve the ability of immune cells to attack cancer. As of yet, no substantial reports have come back from China. The scientific world is holding its breath to see where this revolutionary technology will take us. But what is CRISPR-Cas9 technology, and why is it revolutionary?

The CRISPR-Cas9 software is, according to the world-leading gene editing company Horizon Discovery, “an RNA-guided gene editing platform derived from streptococcus pyogenes using an endonuclease (Cas9) and synthetic guide RNA to introduce a double strand break at a specific location within the genome . . . Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, or CRISPR, was identified in a prokaryotic defence [sic] system. CRISPR are sections of genetic code containing short repetitions of base sequences followed by spacer DNA segments.” In simpler terms, CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene editing technology that enables efficient and precise genomic modifications in a wide variety of organs and tissues--including humans. If proven successful, this software will allow us to edit human DNA. While the long-term effects may have major negative outcomes, there are definitely some advantages to this technological advancement.

First, the positive aspect of CRISPR-Cas9 is attributed to the great potential of healing. Modern surgical methods could be exchanged for this versatile technology. As reported by the gene informational website, Your Genome, CRISPR-Cas9 is faster, cheaper, and more accurate than any other gene editing software modern science has come up with thus far. It could treat a wide variety of medical conditions like cancer, hepatitis B, and high cholesterol. Basically, as long as there’s a genetic component to the disease, the disorder, or the condition, CRISPR-Cas9 can be a very successful tool. There’s virtually no limit as to what cells can be edited. This point brings us to some important implications.

The negative aspect of Cas9 is exactly the source of what makes it so great. It can be used to edit DNA with very little restrictions, which gives us some important ethical questions to consider. What would stop us from editing human DNA for purposes other than healing? This inquiry has crossed the mind of many scientists around the world. As a result, an international group of scientists declared a moratorium, or a halt, in this technology. Per The New York Times on December 3, 2015, “The group said it would be ‘irresponsible to proceed’ until the risks could be better assessed and until there was ‘broad societal consensus about the appropriateness’ of any proposed change.” However, as we learned from the news in China, not everyone has abided by this moratorium.

A member of the aforementioned international group of scientists, biologist Dr. David Baltimore, remarked, “The overriding question is when, if ever, we will want to use gene editing to change human inheritance.” In other words, what stops humankind from creating designer babies?

With most scientific advancements, more solutions come hand-in-hand with more problems. Scientists are debating the morality of CRISPR-Cas9 right now, and the general public’s opinion matters more than we may think. The gene editing software has now been used for the first time, and there’s no doubt that if the results come back successful, many other countries including the United States will want to hop on this advancement as quickly as possible. Because, when it comes down to it, what parent wouldn’t want this technology available for their terminally ill child? It could even be considered cruel to block this technology if it is proven to be the only viable option for saving lives.

If we choose to go through with this technology, would humankind be using our medical knowledge to the best of our abilities, or would we go all Victor Frankenstein and start playing God? As scientists and the general population anxiously await the trial results from the lung cancer patient in China, we must use this time to establish firm criteria and definitive parameters as to the appropriate use of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing software. Otherwise, we may steer in a direction worse than we could have ever imagined.

It has been a while since this debate first arose. As time passes, we as the general public have a critical question to answer: are the life-saving benefits worth the potential for unethical consequences?

Works Cited:
  1. Cyranoski, David. "CRISPR Gene-editing Tested in a Person for the First Time." Nature. Macmillan Publishers, 15 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
  2. Griffiths, James, and Serenitie Wang. “Chinese Scientists Use Gene-editing Techniques in Humans for First Time.” CNN. Cable News Network, 15 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
  3. “CRISPR Cas9.” Horizon Discovery. Horizon Discovery Group Plc, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
  4. “What Is CRISPR-Cas9?” Your Genome. The Public Engagement Team at the Wellcome Genome Campus, 07 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
  5. Wade, Nicholas. “Scientists Seek Moratorium on Edits to Human Genome That Could Be Inherited.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Dec. 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.

By Danielle Leard
Image from Shutterstock


  1. wow danielle this is very refreshing. i think i've never read an article like this in lithium before. very informative! wow

    1. thank you!! as soon as i found out about this, i had to share

  2. yesssss inform meeeeeee keep me wokeeeee

    1. as soon as i found out about this, i couldn't keep it to myself!