ENTERTAINMENT

Gene editing: Citizens' meeting planned to “transform” human species


According to a group of experts, people in mundane non-scientific professions like plumbing and baking should be consulted about gene editing.

Much like a jury made up of ordinary people in criminal proceedings, assemblies of global citizens should give lay people the floor on the controversial technology.

Gene editing is believed to have the potential to prevent diseases such as sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, and some forms of cancer.

But the technology could potentially create unintended and permanent genetic mutations that are passed down through generations and weaken humanity.

Genetic improvements could also protect important plants such as potatoes and maize from disease and end world hunger – or alternatively produce strange "Frankenstein foods".

The ethical and social implications of a powerful gene modification technology are too important to be left to scientists and politicians, argues the team of experts in its research report published in Science.

Call to all plumbers! The effects of gene editing are considered so important that it should be studied not only by professionals but also by the public, experts say

The authors come from a wide range of disciplines, including governance, law, bioethics, and genetics.

"Think about how we trust juries in court cases to deliver good judgments," said author Professor John Dryzek of Canberra University.

“Reflection is a particularly good way to tap into the wisdom of the masses, as it allows participants to put together the various pieces of information it contains in a constructive and thoughtful way.

"The fact that they are made up of citizens who have not been active on any issue in the past means that they can think well about the relative weight of different values ​​and principles."

According to experts, citizen assemblies are ideal for examining the complexities of genome editing

According to experts, citizen assemblies are ideal for examining the complexities of genome editing

WHAT IS GENE EDITING?

Editing the genome allows scientists to make changes to DNA, resulting in changes in physical properties.

Scientists use different technologies for this.

These technologies act like scissors and cut the DNA at a specific point.

Then scientists can remove, add, or replace the DNA where it was cut.

The first genome editing technologies were developed in the late 20th century.

More recently, a new genome editing tool called CRISPR, invented in 2009, has made editing DNA easier than ever.

Source: United States National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)

"The promises, dangers, and pitfalls of this new technology are so profound that the implications of how and why it is practiced should not be left to experts."

In the paper, researchers say their proposed global gathering should include at least 100 people, none of whom would be scientists, policymakers, or activists in the field.

The selection process for the global assembly should reflect differences and represent "the diversity of cultures and origins".

It would be a matter of developing a "moral and political regulation" for experiments in the processing of the genome and to guarantee "fair access" to the technologies.

"It will help global civil society protect itself from genome editing abuses in the interests of a few," said Professor Baogang He, co-author of the paper at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.

Gene editing changes an organism's DNA in ways that subsequent generations could inherit.

Not only could it make humans less susceptible to disease, but it could also provide a way to control mosquitoes and eradicate malaria, increase plant resilience and reduce hunger, or produce pigs full of organs that are easily transplanted into humans can.

However, unintended side effects could include accidentally mutated disease-transmitting insects, sterile plants, and brand new treatment-resistant diseases that humankind can fight.

Processing of the DNA of a human embryo is currently not permitted in the USA due to a decision of the international committee of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017.

This graphic shows how theoretically an embryo can be "processed" with the powerful CRISPR-Cas9 tool in order to protect people from HIV infection

This graphic shows how theoretically an embryo can be "processed" with the powerful CRISPR-Cas9 tool in order to protect people from HIV infection

He Jiankui (pictured) shocked the scientific community when in 2018 he announced the birth of twins whose genes he believed had been modified to confer immunity to HIV. Citizens' assemblies could protect themselves from future incidents

He Jiankui (pictured) shocked the scientific community when in 2018 he announced the birth of twins whose genes he believed had been modified to confer immunity to HIV. Citizens' assemblies could protect themselves from future incidents

In 2018, the Chinese scientist Dr. He Jiankui applied the powerful gene editing tool CRISPR to two twin girls to give them immunity to HIV.

Last December, he was sentenced to three years in prison by the Chinese authorities for "illegally engaging in the reproduction of the human embryo gene."

According to co-author Professor Anna Middleton of the Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridgeshire, gene modification practices will ultimately have an impact on the world.

"For technologies like genome editing, it's important to understand the social implications," she said.

"The whole globe has the potential to be affected. That's why we need to be represented by as many public viewers as possible around the world."

Several national versions of these gatherings have been held in the US, UK, Australia and China, planned and funded by organizations such as the Kettering Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Genome Campus.

How countries decide to regulate gene editing technologies is of global importance, "because the effects of technological developments do not stop at national borders," argue the experts.

WHY ARE PEOPLE AT GENE-EDITED & # 39; FRANKENSTEIN FOODS & # 39; AFFECTED?

"Frankenstein foods" are plants or meat that have been genetically engineered.

Plants and livestock have changed or removed genes to make them more resistant to certain diseases and pests or to grow unnaturally large.

To make these modifications, viral DNA is used to alter genes, which raises health concerns in some groups.

A number of people believe that the long-term effects of genetically modified foods on human health are not well understood.

According to the UK-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCB), "The current evidence from safety assessments of genetically modified crops does not reveal any significant risks to the people who eat them."

The food also poses environmental problems as genetically modified plants could reduce the diversity of plants and animals in the wild, also known as biodiversity.

The transfer of genes between modified and unmodified plants can also lead to unexpected consequences, for example to an irreversible or uncontrollable "escape" of genes into neighboring wild plants through pollen.

The NCB says: "We are not convinced that possible negative gene flow results in some areas will be enough to preclude the cultivation of genetically modified crops in other developing countries."

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