GENE EDITING: “MAKING PERMANENT CHANGES IN THE HUMAN RACE”
Resurrected mammoths, genetically-modified mosquitoes, designer babies, and transplantable animal organs–these are just a few of the things that are possible through a new technology known as CRISPR-Cas9. This “coded” word has been all the buzz in the medical community for years now. Pronounced “crisper” for short, this revolutionary gene editing technology has been touted as the “holy grail of gene manipulation” for its potential to “bend nature,” “forever alter the genetic composition of mankind,” and “rewrite the code of life.” Read on.
CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” These repeats are found in the DNA of bacteria. More specifically, they are copies of small pieces of viruses. Bacteria will use these copies to keep track of “bad viruses” so they can identify and target them later. Many scientists call these copies “mug shots” because the features, design, and anatomy of the virus will be stored in the bacteria’s memory.
According to an article in Massive Science, CRISPR works by “snipping off a piece of the virus and sticking it into a specific part of its own bacterial genome that then works as a mugshot, allowing bacteria to recognize the virus if it tries to strike again.” CRISPR-associated Cas9 enzymes are remarkable because they are able to chop up DNA. Bacteria will send in the Cas9 enzyme to cut up invading viruses. In essence, it acts like a pair of “molecular scissors” as it cuts strands of DNA. As Live Science explains, “When these components are transferred into other, more complex organisms, it allows for the manipulation of genes, or editing.”
In 2012, scientists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were the first to propose that CRISPR-Cas9 could be used for “programmable editing of genomes.” In October 2020, both women received the Nobel Peace Prize in Chemistry for their discovery. Since 2012, science has entered a whole new realm, as the possibilities of this new technology are being explored on a grand scale.
CRISPR-Cas9 is now being applied to the human genome. Scientists can cut open slots in the genome and insert their own sequences, allowing for targeted, precise changes to DNA. “A genome is an organism’s complete set of genetic information. A genome includes all of the hereditary instructions for creating and maintaining life, as well as instructions for reproduction” (Healio.com). Remarkably, in humans, a copy of the entire genome, which includes more than 3 billion DNA base pairs, is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.
With new CRISPR gene editing tools, scientists are able to pinpoint and change the genomic DNA of humans in precise ways. They believe this technology has the potential for curing cancer and genetic disorders, as well as eradicating diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Huntington’s Disease and more. In particular, CRISPR is being considered in the fight against AIDS because it can cut the DNA of the HIV virus out of its “hiding place” in a patient’s immune cells. CRISPR technology has been used in countries like China to edit human embryos, in an effort to make them more resistant to HIV. Unfortunately, as the medical community experiments with this technology, they are finding out there can be serious consequences when it comes to editing the genome, such as unintended mutations or “accidental” deletions of DNA.
As Christians, it is quite concerning to realize that this technology has the potential to change what God has already designed. While scientists praise the possibility of curing diseases, there is also the realization that man is “cutting and snipping” the blueprint of life.
In March of 2021, NPR posted an article titled CRISPR Scientist’s Biography Explores Ethics of Rewriting the Code of Life, which featured an interview with former editor of Time Magazine, Walter Isaacson. The interview highlighted CRISPR-Cas9 and its gene editing capabilities, as well as Isaacson’s new book, called The Code Breaker. It explores the journey of Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, as she discovers the “code of life” through the gene editing scissors of the CRISPR-Cas 9 system.
An overview of the book on Barnes and Noble’s website says:
“…She and her collaborators turned a curiosity of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions. The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution… Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.
Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses?… And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?…”
In the interview discussing his book, Isaacson says, “If you want to change the genes in our body, you can do it by snipping them out and sometimes putting in a replacement. So let’s say somebody has sickle cell anemia or Huntington’s. That’s a simple-gene mutation. And so you can change it with a gene-editing tool. In the future, you might be able to do more complicated things, change hair color, a muscle mass or memory cells in a human being. And so what we do with gene-editing tools is we can fix diseases. And a little bit more controversially, we can edit the embryos of our children and make permanent changes in the human race.”
As I read these remarks regarding making “permanent changes in the human race,” I can’t help but shudder at the lack of respect for God’s role as the designer of all creation and of mankind. Scripture says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1:27).
The interview goes on and seems to become lighthearted as Isaacson casually describes his experience in Jennifer Doudna’s lab at Berkeley.
“And so a couple of graduate students spent a couple of days with me, and we had test tubes and pipettes and those little centrifuges that spin things around. And we were able to take CRISPR and edit a human cell, put in a little phosphorescent gene in it so we could see it glow. And it wasn’t really all that hard, which was a little bit exciting to me, but also a bit unnerving.”
Editing human cells, according to Isaacson, isn’t “all that hard.” As Christians, we know God intricately designed the human body from genes to cells. For someone to say it isn’t “all that hard” to edit human cells created by God, shows a disconnect that’s quite unnerving. Who is man to tamper with what God has already made? In Genesis 1:31 it says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
In the interview, Isaacson goes on to say that gene editing and the discovery of how mRNA works, is a new revolution in science. He comments, “Now we’ve come to another particle, a fundamental particle of our existence, which is the gene. And in the beginning of this century, in 2000 or so, we sequenced the entire human genome. And now with Jennifer Doudna and the things that she and her colleagues have invented, we found ways to rewrite that genome. And so this part of the 21st century, I think, will be a biotech revolution, a life sciences revolution, in which we’ll be able to rewrite the code of life.”
Is it just me, or is this a Jurassic Park type mentality? After all, man was given stewardship over the plants and animals, but he was not given the power to rewrite or reinvent life. Is this reminiscent of what Satan did to Adam and Eve in the garden, where he said “you will be like God?” Yet, we know only God holds the power to design and create life.
Interestingly enough, Jennifer Doudna had a nightmare that involved Adolf Hitler. He was wearing a pig mask and inquiring about the “amazing technology” of CRISPR-Cas9. In an interview, Doudna had this to say about the dream: “I had the Hitler dream and I’ve had a couple of other very scary dreams, almost like nightmares, which is quite unusual for an adult. Not so much lately, but in the first couple of years after I published my work, the field was moving so fast. I had this incredible feeling that the science was getting out way ahead of any considerations about ethics, societal implications and whether we should be worrying about random people in various parts of the world using this for nefarious purposes.”
Doudna has expressed her apprehension over what can happen if CRISPR technology is placed in the wrong hands. She has also expressed concern over the editing of embryos. But at the same time, she wants it to be used to save lives and to treat genetic disorders. Describing how she feels when she hears from people with children who have rare mutations, she comments, “There was one that I can’t stop thinking about… A mother who told me that her infant son was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, caused by a sporadic rare mutation. She sent me a picture of this little boy. He was this adorable little baby, he was bald, in his little carrier and so cute. I have a son and my heart just broke…And you think, if there were a way to help these people, we should do it. It would be wrong not to.”
Some of the most widely debated research with CRISPR involves germline gene editing. This type of editing can alter sperm, eggs and embryos in the early stages, in order to protect a child against a wide array of inherited diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and certain types of cancer. At the same time, these same techniques could be used to create “designer babies,” or to create more desirable human traits that could be passed on to the next generation.
Psalm 139:13-14 reminds us of a truth that stands in opposition to these ideas. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
The world of CRISPR technology lives in the minds of people like Elon Musk, who believes gene editing and AI are essential in the coming years. Take a deep dive into the website Future of Life, where Musk serves on the Scientific Advisory Board. A quote from the website says, “Access to much greater Intelligence will be a step–change in our civilization.”
Herein lies the question–whose intelligence are they referring to? The intelligence of the Almighty God says that He is the one who can make our lives better when it comes to health and humanity. Man, on the other hand, loves building towers. This time, however, man is building with strands of DNA rather than bricks.
After Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier won the Nobel Peace Prize in Chemistry, the press release from the Nobel Prize website posted this statement: “Genetic scissors: a tool for rewriting the code of life.” Nobel Prize committee member Pernilla Wittung Stafshede said, “Only imagination sets the limits for what this chemical tool…can be used for in the future.” Claes Gustafsson, chair of the committee said, “There is enormous power in this genetic tool.”
Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Alfred Nobel, who created the Nobel Peace Prizes to be given to “those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” An innovator himself, Mr. Nobel invented dynamite in 1867. His overall goal was to give the world a safer form of explosives–ones that were less volatile, but still had great power. At first, he named his invention “Nobel’s Blasting Powder,” but later changed it to dynamite, from the ancient Greek word dynamis, which means power.
2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The word for power in this verse is the Greek word dynamis. This word means moral power and excellence of soul. Essentially, the idea is that we will stand our ground and dig our feet in when it comes to the truth. Truth be told, if we have moral power and excellence of soul, we can blow the enemy to smithereens like a giant stick of dynamite.
When it comes to gene editing and the Code of Life, we must blast out the truth that God holds this power and not humans. In the hands of sinful man, this power can become unhinged and lead to all sorts of evil. In his later years, Alfred Nobel became very troubled by the destructiveness of his inventions. This is one of the reasons why he created the Nobel Peace Prizes.
As Christians, we know that there are many leaders, scientists, and inventors in this world who cannot discern when lines are crossed because they don’t know or understand the Word of God, or they do not have a relationship with the Creator of all life. They believe God’s design can be improved or re-engineered.
Referring to Jesus in Mark 6:3 it says, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” The Greek word used for carpenter in this verse is tekton. The definition is builder, creator, architect and craftsman. Make no mistake–Jesus is the craftsman, builder, and creator of life from the dust of the earth to the genes in our bodies. Man cannot edit or change this truth.
How can we effectively pray about this monumental issue at this crucial juncture in our history? Please share your thoughts in the comments. And please share this article–you won’t find this kind of spiritual analysis of news elsewhere.
Angela Rodriguez is an author, blogger and homeschooling Mom who studies the historical and biblical connections between Israel and the United States. You can visit her blogs at 67owls.com and 100trumpets.com. Picture credit: Getty Images.
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