Stop fixing with genes to look good

Facts: Gensaxen

In 2020, the discovery of the Crispr genetic scissors was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. It is the sharpest tool in genetic engineering to date and its use has exploded in the research world.

Among other things, the technology has contributed to many basic scientific discoveries and researchers have, for example, been able to produce crops that can withstand drought and pests.

The new report on gene editing addresses several methods for changing the genome of organisms that have been used back in time but where Crispr has become the dominant one.

The report has been produced by the Swedish Medical Ethics Council, which has been appointed by the government to shed light on medical ethics issues from an overall societal perspective. The Council has a chairman, eight representatives of the political parties and ten experts.

Sources: The Swedish Medical Ethics Council

It is about a very special kind of scissors – which probably no one has missed: the Gene scissors Crispr, which can be controlled to cut off our DNA in a desired place – to remove, change or add desired genes.

A tool that provides unimaginable opportunities to change the genome of all living organisms. It can lead to completely new ways of curing serious diseases, but in the future it could also be used to change our characteristics – and in the long run affect human evolution.

Big hopes

A technology that can lead to rescue – and disaster?

– Maybe you can say that a little pointedly. Crispr is a fantastic technology and there are high hopes that it can help us to better health, such as new treatments for cancer and genetic blood diseases and new antibiotics. But we must also look at the risks of cutting and pasting our genes, so that nothing unfortunate happens, says Nils-Eric Sahlin, professor of medical ethics at Lund University.

He is an expert in the Swedish Medical Ethics Council (Smer), which has produced a new report that looks at various arguments for and against genre editing and gives a number of recommendations.

No one knows exactly how the technology will be developed or used, which makes it important to already now think about what should be allowed in the future, Smer emphasizes.

Among other things, the Council believes that – at least for the time being – the possibility of editing human genes for purposes other than healthcare should be stopped, ie to improve our characteristics, appearance or abilities, for example. Today, there are no legal obstacles to this.

Nils-Eric Sahlin, professor of medical ethics at Lund University.

Smer does not mention any concrete examples where genetic scissors have been used for such purposes. But experiments are underway in different parts of the world according to Nils-Eric Sahlin, for example in the aesthetic field.

– Just as beauty surgery has become a multi-billion industry, I think there would be a great demand if a relatively simple technology can change your appearance for the better. Attempts also seem to be underway in doping. If, instead of blood-doping, you can have the same effect with genre editing, it is excellent for an athlete, especially if you can not track the genre editing in any simple way, says Nils-Eric Sahlin.

Threats to human dignity

According to the report, the fact that this type of treatment should not be allowed is not least about what kind of society we want – and what values ​​should guide us.

Reduced tolerance for the imperfect and a threat to human dignity are some of the consequences Smer warns of in the long run.

– Finally, you may feel pressure to make certain genetic changes with yourself, just because it is good for society. We need a broader discussion and I wish that more people reflected on these issues. I do not think ordinary people do that, says Nils-Eric Sahlin.

At the same time, he emphasizes that genre editing can bring a lot of good, not least in healthcare.

– Ethics and morals do not exist to ban research in the field. But it is important to do research in an ethically defensible way and not take unnecessary risks with people.

The genetic changes are only passed on to the next generation if Crispr is used in our germ cells. Such gene editing could be used, for example, in the case of involuntary infertility that has genetic causes, or to make changes in the child.

And it has already happened. In 2018, the world was shocked by the news that a pair of twins was born in China whose genome changed with Crispr when they were embryos, something that was strongly condemned by the research world. Today, such hereditary gene editing is prohibited in most countries, including Sweden, and it should continue to do so, at least for the time being, Smer believes.

Clumsy scissors

One reason is that it is not possible to know for sure that the genetic scissors cut and paste in exactly the right place in the genome. It’s simply too clumsy.

– You want to be sure that the changes you make do not have unwanted effects – not even for the child and the child’s descendants. And we do not know that today, says Nils-Eric Sahlin.

One question is to what extent it will be possible to genetically edit our traits, which are usually linked to a number of genes and rarely to a single gene that can be easily replaced.

– This means that it can be very difficult, but it is still important to think about the issue because we already see that attempts are being made in this direction, says Nils-Eric Sahlin.

Source: by

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