It’s time to question bioengineering

Paul Root Wolpe: It’s time to question bio-engineering

0:11
Today I want to talk about design, but not design as we usually think about it. I want to talk about what is happening now in our scientific, biotechnological culture, where, for really the first time in history, we have the power to design bodies, to design animal bodies, to design human bodies. In the history of our planet, there have been three great waves of evolution.

0:38
The first wave of evolution is what we think of as Darwinian evolution. So, as you all know, species lived in particular ecological niches and particular environments, and the pressures of those environments selected which changes, through random mutation in species, were going to be preserved. Then human beings stepped out of the Darwinian flow of evolutionary history and created the second great wave of evolution, which was we changed the environment in which we evolved. We altered our ecological niche by creating civilization. And that has been the second great — couple 100,000 years, 150,000 years — flow of our evolution. By changing our environment, we put new pressures on our bodies to evolve. Whether it was through settling down in agricultural communities, all the way through modern medicine, we have changed our own evolution. Now we’re entering a third great wave of evolutionary history, which has been called many things: “intentional evolution,” “evolution by design” — very different than intelligent design — whereby we are actually now intentionally designing and altering the physiological forms that inhabit our planet.

2:02
So I want to take you through a kind of whirlwind tour of that and then at the end talk a little bit about what some of the implications are for us and for our species, as well as our cultures, because of this change. Now we actually have been doing it for a long time. We started selectively breeding animals many, many thousands of years ago. And if you think of dogs for example, dogs are now intentionally-designed creatures. There isn’t a dog on this earth that’s a natural creature. Dogs are the result of selectively breeding traits that we like. But we had to do it the hard way in the old days by choosing offspring that looked a particular way and then breeding them. We don’t have to do it that way anymore.

2:49
This is a beefalo. A beefalo is a buffalo-cattle hybrid. And they are now making them, and someday, perhaps pretty soon, you will have beefalo patties in your local supermarket. This is a geep, a goat-sheep hybrid. The scientists that made this cute little creature ended up slaughtering it and eating it afterwards. I think they said it tasted like chicken. This is a cama. A cama is a camel-llama hybrid, created to try to get the hardiness of a camel with some of the personality traits of a llama. And they are now using these in certain cultures. Then there’s the liger. This is the largest cat in the world — the lion-tiger hybrid. It’s bigger than a tiger. And in the case of the liger, there actually have been one or two that have been seen in the wild. But these were created by scientists using both selective breeding and genetic technology. And then finally, everybody’s favorite, the zorse. None of this is Photoshopped. These are real creatures. And so one of the things we’ve been doing is using genetic enhancement, or genetic manipulation, of normal selective breeding pushed a little bit through genetics. And if that were all this was about, then it would be an interesting thing. But something much, much more powerful is happening now.

4:27
These are normal mammalian cells genetically engineered with a bioluminescent gene taken out of deep-sea jellyfish. We all know that some deep-sea creatures glow. Well, they’ve now taken that gene, that bioluminescent gene, and put it into mammal cells. These are normal cells. And what you see here is these cells glowing in the dark under certain wavelengths of light. Once they could do that with cells, they could do it with organisms. So they did it with mouse pups, kittens. And by the way, the reason the kittens here are orange and these are green is because that’s a bioluminescent gene from coral, while this is from jellyfish. They did it with pigs. They did it with puppies. And, in fact, they did it with monkeys. And if you can do it with monkeys — though the great leap in trying to genetically manipulate is actually between monkeys and apes — if they can do it in monkeys, they can probably figure out how to do it in apes, which means they can do it in human beings. In other words, it is theoretically possible that before too long we will be biotechnologically capable of creating human beings that glow in the dark. Be easier to find us at night.

5:52
And in fact, right now in many states, you can go out and you can buy bioluminescent pets. These are zebra fish. They’re normally black and silver. These are zebra fish that have been genetically engineered to be yellow, green, red, and they are actually available now in certain states. Other states have banned them. Nobody knows what to do with these kinds of creatures. There is no area of the government — not the EPA or the FDA — that controls genetically-engineered pets. And so some states have decided to allow them, some states have decided to ban them.

6:28
Some of you may have read about the FDA’s consideration right now of genetically-engineered salmon. The salmon on top is a genetically engineered Chinook salmon, using a gene from these salmon and from one other fish that we eat, to make it grow much faster using a lot less feed. And right now the FDA is trying to make a final decision on whether, pretty soon, you could be eating this fish — it’ll be sold in the stores. And before you get too worried about it, here in the United States, the majority of food you buy in the supermarket already has genetically-modified components to it. So even as we worry about it, we have allowed it to go on in this country — much different in Europe — without any regulation, and even without any identification on the package.

7:16
These are all the first cloned animals of their type. So in the lower right here, you have Dolly, the first cloned sheep — now happily stuffed in a museum in Edinburgh; Ralph the rat, the first cloned rat; CC the cat, for cloned cat; Snuppy, the first cloned dog — Snuppy for Seoul National University puppy — created in South Korea by the very same man that some of you may remember had to end up resigning in disgrace because he claimed he had cloned a human embryo, which he had not. He actually was the first person to clone a dog, which is a very difficult thing to do, because dog genomes are very plastic. This is Prometea, the first cloned horse. It’s a Haflinger horse cloned in Italy, a real “gold ring” of cloning, because there are many horses that win important races who are geldings. In other words, the equipment to put them out to stud has been removed. But if you can clone that horse, you can have both the advantage of having a gelding run in the race and his identical genetic duplicate can then be put out to stud. These were the first cloned calves, the first cloned grey wolves, and then, finally, the first cloned piglets: Alexis, Chista, Carrel, Janie and Dotcom.

8:37
(Laughter)

8:41
In addition, we’ve started to use cloning technology to try to save endangered species. This is the use of animals now to create drugs and other things in their bodies that we want to create. So with antithrombin in that goat — that goat has been genetically modified so that the molecules of its milk actually include the molecule of antithrombin that GTC Genetics wants to create. And then in addition, transgenic pigs, knockout pigs, from the National Institute of Animal Science in South Korea, are pigs that they are going to use, in fact, to try to create all kinds of drugs and other industrial types of chemicals that they want the blood and the milk of these animals to produce for them, instead of producing them in an industrial way.

9:35
These are two creatures that were created in order to save endangered species. The guar is an endangered Southeast Asian ungulate. A somatic cell, a body cell, was taken from its body, gestated in the ovum of a cow, and then that cow gave birth to a guar. Same thing happened with the mouflon, where it’s an endangered species of sheep. It was gestated in a regular sheep body, which actually raises an interesting biological problem. We have two kinds of DNA in our bodies. We have our nucleic DNA that everybody thinks of as our DNA, but we also have DNA in our mitochondria, which are the energy packets of the cell. That DNA is passed down through our mothers. So really, what you end up having here is not a guar and not a mouflon, but a guar with cow mitochondria, and therefore cow mitochondrial DNA, and a mouflon with another species of sheep’s mitochondrial DNA. These are really hybrids, not pure animals. And it raises the question of how we’re going to define animal species in the age of biotechnology — a question that we’re not really sure yet how to solve.

10:55
This lovely creature is an Asian cockroach. And what they’ve done here is they’ve put electrodes in its ganglia and its brain and then a transmitter on top, and it’s on a big computer tracking ball. And now, using a joystick, they can send this creature around the lab and control whether it goes left or right, forwards or backwards. They’ve created a kind of insect bot, or bugbot. It gets worse than that — or perhaps better than that. This actually is one of DARPA’s very important — DARPA is the Defense Research Agency — one of their projects. These goliath beetles are wired in their wings. They have a computer chip strapped to their backs, and they can fly these creatures around the lab. They can make them go left, right. They can make them take off. They can’t actually make them land. They put them about one inch above the ground, and then they shut everything off and they go pfft. But it’s the closest they can get to a landing.

11:56
And in fact, this technology has gotten so developed that this creature — this is a moth — this is the moth in its pupa stage, and that’s when they put the wires in and they put in the computer technology, so that when the moth actually emerges as a moth, it is already prewired. The wires are already in its body, and they can just hook it up to their technology, and now they’ve got these bugbots that they can send out for surveillance. They can put little cameras on them and perhaps someday deliver other kinds of ordinance to warzones.

12:35
It’s not just insects. This is the ratbot, or the robo-rat by Sanjiv Talwar at SUNY Downstate. Again, it’s got technology — it’s got electrodes going into its left and right hemispheres; it’s got a camera on top of its head. The scientists can make this creature go left, right. They have it running through mazes, controlling where it’s going. They’ve now created an organic robot. The graduate students in Sanjiv Talwar’s lab said, “Is this ethical? We’ve taken away the autonomy of this animal.” I’ll get back to that in a minute.

13:12
There’s also been work done with monkeys. This is Miguel Nicolelis of Duke. He took owl monkeys, wired them up so that a computer watched their brains while they moved, especially looking at the movement of their right arm. The computer learned what the monkey brain did to move its arm in various ways. They then hooked it up to a prosthetic arm, which you see here in the picture, put the arm in another room. Pretty soon, the computer learned, by reading the monkey’s brainwaves, to make that arm in the other room do whatever the monkey’s arm did. Then he put a video monitor in the monkey’s cage that showed the monkey this prosthetic arm, and the monkey got fascinated. The monkey recognized that whatever she did with her arm, this prosthetic arm would do. And eventually she was moving it and moving it, and eventually stopped moving her right arm and, staring at the screen, could move the prosthetic arm in the other room only with her brainwaves — which means that monkey became the first primate in the history of the world to have three independent functional arms.

14:18
And it’s not just technology that we’re putting into animals. This is Thomas DeMarse at the University of Florida. He took 20,000 and then 60,000 disaggregated rat neurons — so these are just individual neurons from rats — put them on a chip. They self-aggregated into a network, became an integrated chip. And he used that as the IT piece of a mechanism which ran a flight simulator. So now we have organic computer chips made out of living, self-aggregating neurons. Finally, Mussa-Ivaldi of Northwestern took a completely intact, independent lamprey eel brain. This is a brain from a lamprey eel. It is living — fully-intact brain in a nutrient medium with these electrodes going off to the sides, attached photosensitive sensors to the brain, put it into a cart — here’s the cart, the brain is sitting there in the middle — and using this brain as the sole processor for this cart, when you turn on a light and shine it at the cart, the cart moves toward the light; when you turn it off, it moves away. It’s photophilic. So now we have a complete living lamprey eel brain. Is it thinking lamprey eel thoughts, sitting there in its nutrient medium? I don’t know, but in fact it is a fully living brain that we have managed to keep alive to do our bidding.

15:54
So, we are now at the stage where we are creating creatures for our own purposes. This is a mouse created by Charles Vacanti of the University of Massachusetts. He altered this mouse so that it was genetically engineered to have skin that was less immunoreactive to human skin, put a polymer scaffolding of an ear under it and created an ear that could then be taken off the mouse and transplanted onto a human being. Genetic engineering coupled with polymer physiotechnology coupled with xenotransplantation. This is where we are in this process.

16:33
Finally, not that long ago, Craig Venter created the first artificial cell, where he took a cell, took a DNA synthesizer, which is a machine, created an artificial genome, put it in a different cell — the genome was not of the cell he put it in — and that cell then reproduced as the other cell. In other words, that was the first creature in the history of the world that had a computer as its parent — it did not have an organic parent. And so, asks The Economist: “The first artificial organism and its consequences.”

17:10
So you may have thought that the creation of life was going to happen in something that looked like that. (Laughter) But in fact, that’s not what Frankenstein’s lab looks like. This is what Frankenstein’s lab looks like. This is a DNA synthesizer, and here at the bottom are just bottles of A, T, C and G — the four chemicals that make up our DNA chain.

17:34
And so, we need to ask ourselves some questions. For the first time in the history of this planet, we are able to directly design organisms. We can manipulate the plasmas of life with unprecedented power, and it confers on us a responsibility. Is everything okay? Is it okay to manipulate and create whatever creatures we want? Do we have free reign to design animals? Do we get to go someday to Pets ‘R’ Us and say, “Look, I want a dog. I’d like it to have the head of a Dachshund, the body of a retriever, maybe some pink fur, and let’s make it glow in the dark”? Does industry get to create creatures who, in their milk, in their blood, and in their saliva and other bodily fluids, create the drugs and industrial molecules we want and then warehouse them as organic manufacturing machines? Do we get to create organic robots, where we remove the autonomy from these animals and turn them just into our playthings?

18:38
And then the final step of this, once we perfect these technologies in animals and we start using them in human beings, what are the ethical guidelines that we will use then? It’s already happening. It’s not science fiction. We are not only already using these things in animals, some of them we’re already beginning to use on our own bodies.

19:01
We are now taking control of our own evolution. We are directly designing the future of the species of this planet. It confers upon us an enormous responsibility that is not just the responsibility of the scientists and the ethicists who are thinking about it and writing about it now. It is the responsibility of everybody because it will determine what kind of planet and what kind of bodies we will have in the future.

19:26
Thanks.

19:28
(Applause)

Genetic Engineering Will Change Everything Forever – CRISPR

Designer babies, the end of diseases, genetically modified humans that never age. Outrageous things that used to be science fiction are suddenly becoming reality. The only thing we know for sure is that things will change irreversibly.


Transcript

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Imagine you were alive back in the 1980’s,

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and were told that computers would soon take over everything:

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from shopping, to dating, and the stock market,

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that billions of people would be connected via a kind of web,

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that you would own a handheld device orders of magnitudes more powerful than supercomputers.

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It would seem absurd, but then all of it happened.

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Science fiction became our reality and we don’t even think about it.

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We’re at a similar point today with genetic engineering.

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So let’s talk about it.

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Where it came from, what we’re doing right now,

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and about a recent breakthrough that will change how we live and what we perceive as normal forever.

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Humans have been engineering life for thousands of years.

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Through selective breeding, we strengthened useful traits in plants and animals.

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We became very good at this, but never fully understood how it worked.

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Until we discovered the code of life, Deoxyribonucleic Acid—DNA.

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A complex molecule that guides the growth, development, function, and reproduction of everything alive.

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Information is encoded in the structure of the molecule.

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Four nucleotides are paired and make up a code that carries instructions.

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Change the instructions and you change the being carrying it.

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As soon as DNA was discovered, people tried to tinker with it.

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In the 1960’s, scientist bombarded plants with radiation to cause random mutations in the genetic code.

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The idea was to get a useful plant variation by pure chance.

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Sometimes it actually worked too.

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In the 70’s, scientists inserted DNA
snippets into bacteria, plants, and animals

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to study and modify them for
research, medicine, agriculture, and for fun.

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The earliest genetically modified animal
was born in 1974, making mice a standard tool for research, saving millions of lives.

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In the 80’s, we got commercial. The first patent was given for a microbe engineered to absorb oil.

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Today we produce many chemicals by means of engineered life,

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like life-saving clotting factors, growth hormones, and insulin.

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All things we had to harvest from the organs of animals before that.

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The first food modified in the lab went on sale in 1994: the Flavr Savr tomato,

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a tomato given a much longer shelf life where an extra gene that suppresses the build-up of a rotting enzyme.

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But GM food and the controversy surrounding them deserve a video of their own.

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In the 1990’s, there was also a brief
foray into human engineering.

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To treat maternal infertility, babies were made that carried genetic information from 3 humans.

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Making them the first humans ever to have 3 genetic parents.

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Today there are super muscled pigs, fast-growing salmon, featherless chicken, and see-through frogs.

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On the fun side, we made things glow in the dark.

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Fluorescent zebrafish are available for
as little as ten dollars.

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All of this is already very impressive, but until recently

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gene editing was extremely expensive,
complicated, and took a long time to do.

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This has now changed with a revolutionary new technology now entering the stage—CRISPR.

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Overnight, the costs of engineering have shrunk by 99 %.

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Instead of a year, it takes a few weeks to conduct experiments, and basically everybody with a lab can do it.

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It’s hard to get across how big a technical revolution CRISPR is.

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It literally has the potential to change humanity forever.

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Why did this sudden revolution happen and how does it work?

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Bacteria and viruses have been fighting
since the dawn of life.

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So-called bacteriophages or phages hunt bacteria.

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In the ocean, phages kill 40 % of them every single day.

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Phages do this by inserting their own genetic code into the bacteria and taking them over to use them as factories.

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The bacteria tried to resist but failed most the time because their protection tools are too weak,

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But sometimes bacteria survive an attack.

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Only if they do so can they activate their most effective antivirus system:

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they save a part of the virus DNA in their own genetic code in a DNA archive called CRISPR.

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Here it’s stored safely until it’s needed.

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When the virus attacks again, the bacterium quickly makes an RNA copy from the DNA archive and arms a secret weapon—a protein called CAS9.

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The protein now scans the bacterium’s
insides for signs of the virus invader

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by comparing every bit of DNA it finds to the sample from the archive.

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When it finds a 100-percent perfect match,

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it’s activated and cuts out the virus
DNA, making it useless, protecting the bacterium against the attack.

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What’s special is that CAS9 is very
precise, almost like a DNA surgeon.

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The revolution began when scientists figured out that the CRISPR system is programmable.

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You can just give it a copy of DNA you want to modify and put the system into a living cell.

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If the old techniques of genetic manipulation were like a map, CRISPR is like a GPS system.

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Aside from being precise, cheap, and easy, CRISPR offers the ability to edit live cells,

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to switch genes on and off, and target and study particular DNA sequences.

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It also works for every type of cell: microorganisms, plants, animals, or humans.

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But despite the revolution CRISPR is for science, it’s still just a first generation tool.

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More precise tools are already being created and used as we speak.

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In 2015, scientists use CRISPR to cut the HIV virus out of living cells

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from patients in the lab, proving that it was possible.

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Only about a year later, they carried out a larger scale project with rats

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that had the HIV virus in basically all of their body cells.

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By simply injecting CRISPR into the rats tails,

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they were able to remove more than 50 %
of the virus from cells all over the body.

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In a few decades, a crystal therapy
might cure HIV and other retroviruses,

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viruses that hide inside human DNA like
Herpes could be eradicated this way.

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CRISPR could also defeat one of our worst enemies—cancer.

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Cancer occurs when cells refused to die and keep multiplying while concealing themselves from the immune system.

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CRISPR gives us the means to edit your immune cells and make them better cancer hunters.

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Getting rid of cancer might eventually mean

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getting just a couple of injections of a
few thousand of your own cells

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that have been engineered in the lab to heal you for good.

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The first clinical trial for a CRISPR cancer treatment on human patients was approved in early 2016 in the
US.

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Not even a month later, Chinese scientists announced that they would treat lung cancer patients

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with immune cells modified with CRISPR in August 2016.

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Things are picking up pace quickly.

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And then there are genetic diseases.

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There are thousands of them and they range from mildly annoying to deadly or entail decades of suffering.

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With a powerful tool like CRISPR, we may be able to end this.

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Over 3,000 genetic diseases are caused by a single incorrect letter in your DNA.

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We are already building a modified
version of CAS9 that is made to change just a single letter, fixing the disease in the cell.

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In a decade or two, we could possibly cure thousands of diseases forever.

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But all of these medical applications have one thing in common:

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they are limited to the individual and die with them,

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except if you use them on reproductive cells or very early embryos.

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But crisper can and probably will be used for much more:

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the creation of modified humans—designer babies—and will mean gradual,

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but irreversible changes to the human gene pool.

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The means to edit the genome of a human embryo already exists.

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Though the technology is still in its early stages, but it has already been attempted twice.

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In 2015 and 2016, Chinese scientists experimented with human embryos and were partially successful on their second attempt.

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They showed the enormous challenges we still face in gene editing embryos,

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but also that scientists are
working on solving them.

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This is like the computer in the 70’s. There will be better computers.

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Regardless of your personal take on
genetic engineering, it will affect you.

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Modified humans could alter the genome of our entire species, because their engineered traits will be passed on to their children

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and could spread over generations, slowly modifying the whole gene pool of humanity.

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It will start slowly. The first designer babies will not be overly designed.

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It’s most likely that they will be created to eliminate a deadly genetic disease running in a family.

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As the technology progresses and gets
more refined, more and more people may argue that not using genetic modification is unethical,

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because it condemns children to preventable suffering and death and denies them the cure.

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But as soon as the first engineered kid is born, a door is opened that can’t be closed anymore.

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Early on, vanity traits will mostly be left alone.

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But as genetic modification becomes more accepted and our knowledge of our genetic code enhances, the temptation will grow.

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If you make your offspring immune to Alzheimer, why not also give them an enhance metabolism?

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Why not throw in perfect eyesight?

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How about height or muscular structure?

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Full hair?

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How about giving your child the gift of
extraordinary intelligence?

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Huge changes are made as a result of the personal decisions of millions of individuals that accumulate.

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This is a slippery slope. Modified humans could become the new standard.

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But as engineering becomes more
normal and our knowledge improves,

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we could solve the single biggest mortality risk factor: aging.

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Two-thirds of the 150,000 people who died today will die of age-related causes.

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Currently we think aging is caused by the accumulation of damage to ourselves,

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like DNA breaks and the systems responsible for fixing those wearing off over time.

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But there are also genes that directly affect aging.

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A combination of genetic engineering and other therapy could stop or slow down aging, maybe even reverse it.

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We know from nature that there are animals immune to aging.

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Maybe we could even borrow a few genes for ourselves.

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Some scientists even think biological aging could be something that eventually just stops being a thing.

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We would still die at some point, but instead of doing so in hospitals at age 90,

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we might be able to spend a few thousand years with our loved ones.

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Research into this is in its infancy,

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and many scientists are rightly skeptical about the end of aging.

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The challenges are enormous and maybe it is unachievable,

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but it is conceivable the people alive today might be the first to profit from effective anti aging therapy.

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All we might need is for someone to convince a smart billionaire to make it their next problem to solve.

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On a bigger scale, we certainly could solve many problems by having a modified population.

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Engineered humans might be better equipped to cope with high-energy food,

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eliminating many diseases of civilization like obesity.

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In possession of a modified immune system, with a library of potential threats,

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we might become immune to most diseases that haunt us today.

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Even further into the future, we could engineer humans to be equipped for extended space travel

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and to cope with different conditions on another planet,

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which would be extremely helpful in
keeping us alive in our hostile universe.

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Still, a few major challenges await us: some technological, some ethical.

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Many of you watching will feel uncomfortable and fear that we will create a world in which we will reject non-perfect humans

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and pre-select features and qualities based on our idea of what’s healthy.

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The thing is we are already living in
this world.

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Tests for dozens of genetic diseases or complications have become standard for pregnant women in much of the world.

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Often the mere suspicion of a genetic defect can lead to the end of a pregnancy.

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Take Down syndrome for example, one of the most common genetic defects.

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In Europe, about 90 % of all pregnancies where it’s detected are terminated.

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The decision to terminate pregnancy is incredibly personal,

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but it’s important to acknowledge the reality that we are pre-selecting humans based on medical conditions.

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There is also no use in pretending this will change,

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so we have to act carefully and respectfully as we advance the technology and can make more and more
selections.

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But none of this will happen soon.

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As powerful as CRISPR is—and it is, it’s not infallible yet.

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Wrong edits still happen as well as unknown errors that can occur anywhere in the DNA and might go unnoticed.

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The gene edit might achieve the desired result—disabling a disease,

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but also might accidentally trigger unwanted changes.

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We just don’t know enough yet about the
complex interplay of our genes to avoid unpredictable consequences.

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Working on accuracy and monitoring methods is a major concern as the first human trials begin.

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And since we’ve discussed a possible positive future, there are dark visions too.

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Imagine what a state like North Korea
could do if they embraced genetic engineering.

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Could a state cement its rule forever by forcing gene editing on their subjects?

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What would stop a totalitarian regime from engineering an army of modified super soldiers?

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It is doable in theory.

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Scenarios like this one are far, far off into the future, if they ever become possible at all.

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But the basic proof of concept for genetic engineering like this already exists today.

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The technology really is that powerful.

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While this might be a tempting reason to ban genetic editing and related research, that would certainly be a mistake.

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Banning human genetic engineering would only lead to the science wandering off

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to a place with jurisdiction and rules
that we are uncomfortable with.

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Only by participating can we make sure that further research is guided by caution, reason, oversight, and transparency.

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Do you feel uncomfortable now?

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Most of us have something wrong with them.

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In the future that lies ahead of us, would we have been allowed to exist?

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The technology is certainly a bit scary, but we have a lot to gain,

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and genetic engineering might just be a step in the natural evolution of intelligence species in the universe.

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We might end disease.

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We could extend our life expectancy by centuries and travel to the stars.

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There’s no need to think small when it comes to this topic.

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Whatever your opinion on genetic engineering, the future is approaching no matter what.

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What has been insane science fiction is about to become our new reality,

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a reality full of opportunities and challenges.

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If you want to support to explaining complicated stuff and maybe get your own bird in return, you can do so here.

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If you want to learn more about CRISPR, we put the sources and further reading in the description.

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More videos about the whole topic area will follow.

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