Ethics Concerning CRISPR Technology

CRISPR-cas 9 technology allows biologist to edit genes. Cas-9 is an enzyme that works as biological scissors that can cut DNA. A small RNA molecule is required to direct the enzyme to a specific sequence of interest. Once the DNA is cut out, the natural machinery of the bodies DNA repair mechanism takes over and will seal up the cut out DNA ends. This technology can be used to alter protein/gene expression, which could be very helpful when researching ways for curing diseases. This brings up an ethical question of who should be able to alter genes? Should parents be able to alter genes of their unborn child to prevent them from being deaf, having a certain eye color, certain disease etc? If this technology was offered to the public, what would be the price?

Personally, it does not seem ethical to spend this technology editing certain genes that could make a parents ideal child. You shouldn’t be able to choose whether or not you want your child to have certain features. It almost seems as if it would be playing to role of God. It seems as if this technology was offered to the public, it would have to come with many regulations. I think that using this gene editing tool to prevent disease would be awesome though. If science was able to block a certain viral protein from being formed but cutting out the DNA that codes for it, it could prevent multiple fatal diseases. It just becomes the next question of what is the limitations of this technology? How would companies prevent people from going to far with this technology? Below is a picture of the CRISPR-cas-9 system.

crispr-cas9-CO013130

Ethics Concerning CRISPR Technology

Genetic Nature of Personality Traits

“Hamer noticed a correlation: the people with more copies of the mini satellite- more stutters- exhibited a greater desire for novelty… It was one of the first studies linking a personality trait to a specified genetic state….In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic location of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions” -Weinberg p 349-350

I think that if Weinberg were to comment on her speculation today, almost 15 years after the publication of her book, she would say genetic disease typing is moving a lot slower than she thought. I myself might just be out of the loop, but I feel like there have not been any major leaps forward in the field that studies genetic links to our personalities.

On the other hand, a 2012  article describing a study done by British researchers asserts that nature (genes) play more of a role in our personalities than nurture does, supposedly providing an answer to the nature vs. nurture debate. The study showed that identical twins were twice more likely to share personality traits than non-identical twins, who do not have identical DNA. The researchers focused on personality traits such as perseverance and self-control, and showed that there was the biggest genetic difference in these types of traits, i.e. the ability to keep going when things got hard. The researchers were less focused on individual talent, and more about what drove that talent.

I think that this is a very interesting and diverse field, with plenty of room for several applications and a great potential to make people’s lives better by understanding and diagnosing their conditions efficiently. But I also think it leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, particularly where what doctors diagnose as psychological conditions intermingle with what would now be known to be genetic predisposition. I also think that people might have more excuses for their behavior, now that they could blame their actions on DNA, or almost like instinct, as if they were forced to do something. But I think the biggest issue comes from what Weinberg was afraid of, completely knowing what every trait and gene in our body do and having a map of them. I think this is a ethical dilemma, and further research in this area would be open to ethical scrutiny of not done carefully.

Genetic Nature of Personality Traits

Brain and Behavior

“”The knowledge that this science will give cannot be unlearned once it is discovered” (Weinberg 350).

Weinberg states that in coming decades, more and more information will be found that explains the relationship between chemicals in the brain and behavior. Although genes have been studied and many advances have been made in the study of mental health, there is a lot to be learned in disorders which cannot be specifically defined.

In the case of Frediani, he had a personality disorder that could be very hard to identify. When diagnosing and treating mental disorders, some are very hard to categorize based on symptoms and behavior. Once more research is done on genes and specific disorders can be pinpointed, it will be very beneficial to anyone suffering with such a disorder. Even when brought up in court there could be solid evidence to prove someone is mentally unstable vs just the word of a doctor who examined the suspect.

Brain and Behavior

Frediani and Nature vs. Nurture

The close of the novel was a very interesting one. Frediani was found guilty and brought to prison; however, his time in prison was what stood out most. Weinberg stated that Frediani was part of a psychological case study that dealt with parenting styles and behavior, very similar to the nature vs. nurture debate that states that either it’s your genes that make up your behaviors or its the external forces and influences of the environment that shape behavior. During this case study Frediani suggests that his parents were very strict, his dad had a macho attitude, and his mother rarely stood up to him. During his adolescent years Frediani stated that he had built up an enormous resentment towards his parents and started acting out. This idea was very interesting because it was also brought up but quickly overlooked at the very beginning of the novel. It is interesting to think about whether it was Frediani’s life and the influences of his parents that made him have mood swings and exhibit irregular behavior at times. While genes make up the traits of an individual, there is a heavy influence of external environment and parenting styles that shape the behavior of an individual. It was also interesting because Frediani was referred to as possessing the characteristics of a sociopath early in Chapter 21. This makes an interesting connection between the way in which Frediani described his young life and the behaviors exhibited in his new self. Below is a link that explains the nature vs. nurture debate in more depth and it is interesting to see the connections between Frediani’s external influences and how that shaped his behavior with the debate below.

Frediani and Nature vs. Nurture

Risks of Genetic Testing

While Chapter 16 discussed issues involving the verdict of the case, there was heavy discussion on the importance and advancements of DNA. Particularly involving the Human Genome Project and the ability to genetically identify individuals characteristics, traits, and diseases based on their genome and genetic sequence. In regard to these ideas, there was talk of inappropriate reasons for genetic testing such as genetic engineering if children, and aborting fetuses due to unhappiness with traits that are expressed by fetuses. I thought this was very interesting however, with such a new advancement Weinberg never touched upon the risks of genetic testing. She stated that individuals terminate pregnancies due to unwanted characteristics in the fetus however, can genetic testing also cause that unwanted characteristic? Are there risks? Below is a link from the NIH listing the risks of genetic testing. While it suggests that risks are low due to only using blood samples or cheek swabs, there is severe risk of harming the baby and causing disabilities when doing prenatal testing such as amniocentesis. Thus, it is also important to look at the risks of doing such procedures before looking at the strengths immediately for such a new advancement.

https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/testing/riskslimitations

Risks of Genetic Testing

It’s In His Genes

“Paul Frediani’s parents believed their son when he said he was innocent. To do otherwise would be to question their role as parents, the values they has instilled in their eldest son, the genes they had passed on to him.”
-Weinberg, 234

How much of blame should Frediani’s parents be assigned for his situation? Personally, I feel none. There was no distinct lack of nurture or extreme abuse of Frediani as a child that should have caused this situation.

The genes, however, may have some effect on Fredinani’s criminal record. Earlier in the semester we spoke about a gene that makes people more likely to be violent or have extreme emotional reactions to common occurrences. Based on the accounts from his ex-lovers, in which Frediani was painted as an emotional wreck and a hazard to the women’s safety, he could be exposed to the same genetic mutation. Is it possible that Frediani is just a victim of his genes?

 

I don’t believe so, because in the same video that explained the violent gene we saw an innocent, calm, and gentle family where each member had the gene. The family was in control of their own actions and not harming anyone.

Therefore, if anyone is to blame, it is not his parents, his upbringing, or his genes: it is just him.

It’s In His Genes

Human Exaptation of Genes

“Much of the rest is ‘junk’…[consisting] partly of now defunct genes–that once carried instructions that are no longer relevant. For instance, in humans, the stretch of DNA that told our bodies to grow thick long hair all over is no longer useful, but, instead of being deleted, remains alongside a DNA message that disables it.” (Weinberg, 114-115)

This entire process is exaptation. As we learned from Johnson, exaptation is taking something, here a gene, and defining its role. The example he gave was birds’ wings used for flight instead of warmth.

Similarly here, the gene that programs for thick hair all over out bodies is not deleted or modified. Instead it is given a partner to work with. The partner gene allows the original hair gene to still exist, while also giving the modern human body the normal image. A new purpose is given with the aid of a newly (well, relatively) developed partner gene.

Before this example, I didn’t fully understand how exaptation worked in humans, or how it was different than evolution. Now I understand that exaptation in humans works to address a very specific genetic code. The partner gene process was developed to help in the evolution of humans.

If the gene were deleted instead of redefined in purpose, we would not be humans or advanced primates. Similarly, if the wings of a bird were deleted instead of redefined in purpose, they would not be birds.

Human Exaptation of Genes

Sickle Cell Disease

Chapter 3 discusses Mendel’s discovery of genes, and how his study is known as “genetics”. Mutations can occur with genes and effects can occur such as Sickle Cell Disease. Sickle Cell can happen when one parent has the sickle cell trait and the other has an abnormal hemoglobin gene.If both parents are carriers there is a 1 and 4 chance that their child will have sickle cell. The disease is prevalent in populations in or from Africa, and the Middle East. These are major areas where malaria is prevalent. When someone has sickle cell their red blood cells become distorted into a sickle shape and provide low oxygen. There are many treatments for sickle cell such as blood transfusions and an array of pain medications. Unfortunately, no cure has been found. As a Ghanaian American with family members and friends who have sickle cell. I would like for many people to be aware of this disease and I hope some day someone is able to find a cure.

sickle_cell_anemia-01

Sickle Cell Disease

Mendel’s Discovery

Chapter four explains the process by which Mendel was able to come up with the idea of inheritance. On page 32, Weinberg goes into the explanation of how William Bateson coined the term ‘genetics.’ Weinberg writes, “Bateson subsequently immersed himself in the life and work of Gregor Mendel, translating his paper into English, and lecturing on its significance around the world. In 1909, one of his fellow disciples, the Danish evolutionary biologist Wilhelm Johannsen, game a name to Mendel’s units of inheritance – “genes” – and the science of their study became known as genetics” (Weinberg, 32). Relating this back to the book Where Good Ideas Come From, I think that Bateson and Johannsen took what they knew from Mendel’s discovery and applied to to their own. In this case, one may say that Mendel’s discovery acted as the first platform or the initial hunch which then others built upon. Likewise, all heredity discoveries can be considered platforms that are expansions of Mendel’s experiment/discoveries.

Mendel’s Discovery

DNA Analysis

After reading Chapter 1 of Pointing From the Grave, I found it very interesting and relatable to various other science courses I took. In the prologue it mentioned how DNA was first discovered and used to understand the sequencing of the genome and related to genetic makeup of humans. In my Genetics, Synthetic Biology, and Cancer Biology courses we discussed the ways in which DNA was analyzed based on RFLP (Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Technique) analysis which allowed researchers to understand the matches in the breaks in DNA. This is described in the link below in which this techniques uses restriction enzymes to see the cuts in DNA and match the fragments to those of other pieces of DNA. It was interesting to see how DNA, the basic building block for genes, is able to be used in such a way that includes intense analysis of sequences to match the sequences  of interest in a case like the one described in this chapter. If foreign DNA was detected in Helena’s saliva samples, from the bodily fluids of the assailant, it will be interesting to see how RFLP could be used to match the DNA to that of the assailant.

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/dna-evidence-its-genes-30060.html

DNA Analysis

Gene Patenting Controversy

“Scientists are obtaining genetic samples from isolated populations to preserve a record of human diversity and evolution before these rare groups disappear into history.” (Grace, p200)

Gene patenting is a very controversial topic that has even caused a supreme court case. After reading Chapter 7 of Biotechnology Unzipped, I was curious to do a little more digging in to the whole gene patenting case. I found a short video that is against gene patenting, and a short article that is pro gene patenting. I will attach them below, check them out if you have time it’s interesting stuff.

Pro Gene Patenting:

http://www.genengnews.com/gen-articles/in-defense-of-gene-patenting/2052/

Against Gene Patenting:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_v8sfc36OtI

Gene Patenting Controversy