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The Trump Administration is backing a new technology for the genetic manipulation of plants and even animals with no intend to supervise or regulate against possible dangers. If left unchecked, it could open a Pandora’s Box of dangers to human health for generations. Yet very little debate is taking place on this dramatic development. Here are some things to consider.
The new development is being called “genome editing,” or simply gene editing. It’s being promoted as a “new, improved” method of altering genetic expression of plants and even animals and humans. In 2015 London TED conference geneticist Jennifer Doudna presented what is known as CRISPR-Cas9. This is an acronym for “Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats.” It’s a revolutionary and highly controversial gene-editing platform using a bacterially-derived protein, Cas9. It supposedly allows genetic engineers to target and break the DNA double strand at a precise location within a given genome for the first time.
Genetic Editing Proliferation
In effect CRISPR is a highly precise way to alter genes, genes in plants, in animals and even humans. Quite different from the older Monsanto “gene cannon” or other techniques of changing a plant’s genetics by bombarding it with a foreign substance to (hopefully) make the soybean or GMO corn resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, a highly sophisticated and highly costly procedure that is patentable and that is so complex as to be limited to a handful of company actors around the world, gene editing is relatively cheap, kits available for around $500. And relatively easy to use. As one analyst described it,
CRISPR is “a very precise not to mention extraordinarily cheap and easy to use tool which can locate, cut, deactivate, activate or rewrite any sequence of DNA that they want in a living cell.”
Note the words, “cheap and easy to use…can locate, cut, deactivate or rewrite any sequence of DNA that they want…”
And the cost of buying CRISPR and related genome editing materials is alarmingly cheap ranging from several hundred dollars to several thousand. The equipment is available online from scientific equipment makers and on one site an ad reads,
“CRISPR-Cas9 editing made easy:…Our easy-to-use, optimized, and validated solutions span the entire cell engineering workflow, making genome editing accessible to anyone at any level. “ As one critic put it, “anyone can buy some CAS9 for a few hundred bucks, any halfway decent lab can use it to alter the DNA of anything…”
National Security Issue