Those Prize-Winning “Genetic Scissors” May Revolutionize Disease Treatment

Image by Jess Bailey @jessbaileydesigns; found via Unsplash.com

In October, 2020, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to two women for their discovery of a method in the field of genetics with far-ranging applications. The Nobel Committee, in its announcement, called their effort:

“Genetic scissors: a tool for rewriting the code of life”

“Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.”

This is exciting news, of course. First, some brief background. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

I’ll spare you the intricate story of how the research moved from food scientists studying the Streptococcus bacteria used to make yogurt (who knew?) to the revelations made by Doudna and Charpentier that won them the Nobel Prize.

But it’s explained very clearly in Vox: “A simple guide to CRISPR, one of the biggest science stories of the decade.”

Here’s an example:

“If you haven’t heard of CRISPR yet, the short explanation goes like this: In the past nine years, scientists have figured out how to exploit a quirk in the immune systems of bacteria to edit genes in other organisms — plants, mice, even humans. With CRISPR, they can now make these edits quickly and cheaply, in days rather than weeks or months. (The technology is often known as CRISPR/Cas9, but we’ll stick with CRISPR, pronounced ‘crisper.’)”

Another source writes that

“CRISPR offers the promise to cure any human genetic disease. Which are the candidates to be the first one?”

The author’s answer (with informative links):

  1. Cancer (a Chinese study is testing it with patients who have advanced esophageal cancer, and another CRISPR trial at the University of Pennsylvania is seeking to alter a molecule on the exterior of immune cells so they can find and attack tumors.
  2. Blood disorders. I discuss these below. (They should really be listed first, I believe, as you’ll see.)
  3. Blindness. As many hereditary forms of blindness result from a single mutation, CRISPR is believed able to readily target and change a single gene. One company is working on a therapy for the most common cause of inherited blindness in children: Leber congenital amaurosis.
  4. AIDS. CRISPR could be used to “cut the DNA of the HIV virus out of its hiding place in the DNA of immune cells,” thus hitting the virus when it’s inactive—apparently the reason that most therapies can’t completely clear the virus. The author cites other CRISPR approaches to combat HIV as well.
  5. Cystic fibrosis. “Researchers have proven that it is possible to use CRISPR in human lung cells derived from patients with cystic fibrosis and fix the most common mutation behind the disease.” The next step will be testing in humans, though the multiple mutations of CF will require differing methodologies.
  6. Muscular dystrophy. Mutations in the DMD gene result in progressive deterioration of muscles in affected children. Research in mice has demonstrated using CRISPR to fix the numerous mutations involved, and one group of US researchers found a way to get at “12 strategic ‘mutation hotspots’” involved in most of the roughly 3000 mutations contributing to the disease.
  7. Huntington’s disease. Since this devastating hereditary disease, tied to a single gene mutation, involves the brain, it will require especially careful application. Two approaches to increase the precision of CRISPR have been developed. US researchers have developed KamiCas9, a CRISPR carrying its own “self-destruct button,” and Polish researchers add an enzyme called nickase to CRISPR to increase its precision.

CRISPR Changes a Patient’s Life

Last year, NPR (National Public Radio) reported on a young woman they’d been following who’d received treatment using CRISPR. Victoria Gray, a Mississippi mother of four, had been suffering her entire life from sickle cell disease, a genetic blood disorder that can be severe. Millions of people are afflicted worldwide. In the US, more than 100,000 are stricken, including many African Americans.

Victoria Gray described its impact:

“Sometimes it feels like lightning strikes in my chest — and real sharp pains all over. And it’s a deep pain. I can’t touch it and make it better. Sometimes, I will be just balled up and crying, not able to do anything for myself….It’s horrible. When you can’t walk or..lift up a spoon to feed yourself, it gets real hard.”

Her life was filled with hospital visits, and she was unable to involve herself in her children’s lives and care as she had hoped.

When she heard about the possibility her condition might be improved or even cured via CRISPR, she was the first person in the US to volunteer.

Said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health:

“That first person is an absolute groundbreaker. She’s out on the frontier. Victoria deserves a lot of credit for her courage…All of us are watching with great anticipation.”

Her treatment was difficult. First was chemotherapy to prepare the bone marrow for the cells that would have their genes edited; that left Gray with fatigue and mouth sores inhibiting her ability to eat.

During a two-month hospital stay, doctors removed her blood’s bone marrow cells. Then, using the CRISPR “scissors,” they “edited” those cells, turning on a gene that allows the fetal hemoglobin protein to provide fetuses with oxygen in the womb. Once the baby’s born, the genetic switch stops the red blood cells from making fetal hemoglobin.

In this treatment, the restoration of fetal hemoglobin production is expected to take over from the adult-hemoglobin sickle cells, which are deformed and unable to deliver oxygen, thereby damaging organs and threatening life.

Dr. Haydar Frangoul, the clinician in charge of Gray’s care, said:

“We are trying to introduce enough…fetal hemoglobin in the red blood cell to make the red blood cell go back to being happy and squishy and not spicy and hard, so it can go deliver oxygen where it’s supposed to.”

More than 2 billion edited cells were then inserted into Gray’s body.

When Gray left the hospital, she knew it could be quite a while before there were signs that the procedure had been successful.

The good news is that when NPR checked on her one year later, she was doing well: free of the need for blood transfusions, free of pain, and spared hospital visits. The gene edited cells have now remained with her for a full year, indicating that they could last for her entire life.

Gray said:

“It’s amazing. It’s better than I could have imagined. I feel like I can do what I want now.”

Similar success was seen with two other patients treated for sickle cell disease and seven treated for beta thalassemia, another blood disorder.

NPR reported:

“All the patients appear to have responded well. The only side effects have been from the intense chemotherapy they’ve had to undergo before getting the billions of edited cells infused into their bodies.”

However,

“Doctors will have to follow Gray for years and study many additional patients to answer the most important questions: Are the cells really helping patients live healthier lives? Will they keep working? Will they keep working safely? and will the cells actually help patients live longer?”

NPR quoted Jennifer Doudna, one of the Nobel Prize recipients:

“I’m very excited to see the results. Patients appear to be cured of their disease, which is simply remarkable.”

Some Caveats

Clearly, any time we are considering making changes to our genetic makeups, alarm bells go off—and they should. There was the story of the Chinese scientist who claimed he’d created a set of twins with CRISPR-edited genes that would make them resistant to HIV. (It’s still not clear that he did so.)

His actions received worldwide condemnation, as germline genetic editing (to affect the next generation) is widely frowned upon. There are, however, varying ethical guidelines, I’ve learned, from “restrictive” in the US, to “legal prohibition” in the UK, to “ambiguous” in various other countries, ranging from Russia to Iceland.

On what initially seemed to be a troubling note, two studies published in Nature Medicine in 2018 found concerns about the use of CRISPR and cancer.

But a STAT piece in 2019 headlined “CRISPR is ascending again, after scientists find ‘elegant’ fix for cancer worry.” And a 2020 Nature article found “People with cancer show no serious side effects after treatment with gene-edited immune cells.”

Also in 2018, geneticist Allan Bradley of the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England said that CRISPR unleashes DNA damage that’s been “seriously underestimated.” He led a study published in Nature Biotechnology that cited deletions of thousands of DNA bases, including at spots far from the CRISPR’s cuts. Reportedly, some of the deletions can silence genes that should be active and activate genes that should be silent, including cancer-causing genes. “This should be a wakeup call,” said Bradley.

His study found that although the targeted DNA was changed as expected, “that set off a chain reaction that engulfed genes far from the target.”

STAT noted that critics of the cancer studies had asked why, if CRISPR’d cells can initiate cancer, no CRISPR’d mice had turned up with tumors, so scientists raised similar questions about the new genomic havoc finding, Why don’t scientists see it when they analyze the DNA of CRISPR’d cells?

Bradley’s response:

“You find what you look for. No one is looking at the impact [of these DNA changes] on downstream genes.”

Bradley also noted that the standard way to search for the deletions requires PCR (polymerase chain reaction, a method that vastly replicates a small DNA sample so that scientists can study it in detail), which must attach to binding sites. But if CRISPR deletes the binding sites, the damage goes undetected.

Bradley’s study was called “well done and credible…a cautionary note to the [genome editing] community” by a prominent CRISPR developer who declined to be identified because he has business relationships with relevant companies. This expert also said the findings of DNA rearrangements and deletions were consistent with other reports.

I haven’t been able to find any refutation of Bradley’s article or a follow-up. But that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist.

What to Make of All This?

The negative studies were available in 2018, yet Victoria Gray’s treatment began in 2019, and the Nobel Committee awarded its prize in 2020. I can only assume that those involved in all these efforts are cognizant of the potential drawbacks.

There are currently clinical trials using CRISPR in multiple myeloma, lung, bladder and prostate cancer, HIV-1, human papilloma virus, leukemia, melanoma, solid tumors, gastrointestinal infections—as well as sickle cell disease and esophageal cancer.

So we’ll just have to hope that the researchers go slowly, recognizing that CRISPR requires precision that may not have been fully appreciated previously, and watching for any signs of problems.

I saw one reference to the fact that “few studies conduct full-out genome sequencing of CRISPR’d cells.” From my non-medical perspective, I wonder if such sequencing could/should be a part of the protocol for every clinical trial involving CRISPR—sort of a “recheck your work” approach. Perhaps a reader with greater knowledge can respond to this question.

The promise seems so great–a potentially huge breakthrough. But the excitement and early apparent successes—and the vast monetary rewards—must not overshadow the possibility of unintended consequences.

Annie

24 thoughts on “Those Prize-Winning “Genetic Scissors” May Revolutionize Disease Treatment

  1. As you say, the potential is obviously enormous. If there are potential dangers, that means research needs to be done on ways to minimize them. Almost every new technology starts out not working very well and often somewhat dangerous, and gets more effective and safer over time (compare modern cars and airplanes to the very earliest ones, or the present-day internet to the early days of dial-up). And even now, given how bad some of those diseases you list are, many patients will likely feel that an effective treatment is worth the risks.

    This is also, by the way, a good example of my observation that “technology rather than ideology or politics has been the great liberator of humanity” (another would be contraception). Politics is important, as we’ve seen over the last few years, but it’s usually technological innovation that saves the most lives and does the most for quality of life. Also, political change is usually confined to one country while new technology like this rapidly spreads to many countries; and while a progressive policy change could be reversed by a later reactionary government, once a new technology is in widespread use, it’s pretty much irreversible.

    germline genetic editing (to affect the next generation) is widely frowned upon

    Just wait until we can edit some of those genetic diseases out of the germline so that afflicted people can have children without fear of passing on the disease to them. That will quickly put the frowning in proper perspective. Remember how the genetic engineering of plants and animals was originally “frowned upon”, and remained so for a long time among the kind of people who seem to get their knowledge of science from 1950s science fiction movies about giant bugs running amok. Today genetic engineering is an ordinary and routine industrial process, like welding. And, as you point out, different countries tend to adopt different policies. If a technology shows promise, the countries that embrace it will forge ahead and reap the benefits, while countries where the frowners prevail will fall behind and eventually become irrelevant.

    As to Bradley’s study, I’m no expert, but it seems to me that the most relevant question is not whether a “refutation” has been done but whether anyone else has been able to duplicate his results. That’s one of the basic criteria for determining whether a scientific study is valid or not. I’d think two years would be long enough for further studies along the same lines to be done. The motivation would certainly be there — scientists who discovered a major problem with CRISPR would win great credit in their field, since their work would be an essential step in overcoming the problem and making the technology safe. If no one has tried to repeat Bradley’s work to see if they get the same results, that might mean that most scientists don’t find his results credible.

    But whatever the case, we can be sure that CRISPR, like any new technology, will be refined and improved over time, and that various problems and risks will be identified and resolved as it develops. The credit to Charpentier and Doudna for the initial breakthrough is nevertheless fully deserved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Infidel: I’m grateful to you for this extremely thoughtful and wide-ranging comment. I agree with your premise about the overarching value of technology as “the great liberator of humanity.”

      Two issues with the Bradley study (I sometimes bite off more than I can chew in researching these large topics: there are always more relevant studies to be found). You’re absolutely correct that improvements will be made. I came across several articles about ways to mitigate the “off-target” effects of CRISPR in humans. But the existence of these articles seems to “replicate” (not specifically, but substantively) Bradley’s findings.

      And so does a trio of studies published in Nature in July of this year, headlined “CRISPR gene editing in human embryos wreaks chromosomal mayhem.”

      That brings us to your comment about germline editing. There, too, the concept of removing the likelihood of a terrible genetic disease in utero would be a great boon to humanity. But CRISPR, in 2015, moved such thinking from the theoretical to the realistic. And though the first study involved nonviable embryos, it generated worldwide colloquia, involving the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine. A working group was formed to explore the scientific, ethical, and societal issues involved, and a peer reviewed report was published in 2017 setting forth criteria.

      After the Chinese HIV event, the US convened another International panel that issued a consensus report, “Heritable Human Genome Editing” this year.

      Dr Francis Collins of NIH wrote: “I’m gratified to say that in its new report, the expert panel closely examined the scientific and ethical issues, and concluded that heritable human genome editing is too technologically unreliable and unsafe to risk testing it for any clinical application in humans at the present time.”

      I’m going to append the citations for you in a following response because I don’t want to have to reconstruct this one if it disappears. I emphatically agree with your final paragraph. We will presumably get to that wondrous point with germline corrections eventually as well. But I’m glad the experts agree not to rush this delicate process.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the kind words. I do sometimes worry that my comments here get too long, but I’m glad if you don’t find them so.

        If the objection to germline editing is that it’s not yet reliable enough to be safe (as seems to be the case based on the link you gave), then that’s legitimate — human cloning is still not in use, as far as I know, for the same reason. That’s a technical problem to be worked out over time, though. What bothers me is a sort of medieval “there are things man was not meant to know/do” taboo mentality, largely religion-based, which has manifested itself in the early days of almost every innovation from lightning rods to birth-control pills to genetic engineering. It’s ultimately a problem that solves itself, though. Imagine if, once germline editing is safe enough for large-scale use, just one country (Japan or Israel, say), were to launch a program to double the IQ of much or most of its population. If all other countries continued to reject the technology, then within a generation they would have reduced themselves to a position like that of apes trying to compete with humans, and that one country, whichever one it was, would be the only country that mattered in the future development of humanity.

        This is, by the way, the main reason I object to the idea of a world government. Depending on who controlled it, such a regime might actually be able to enforce technological stagnation in certain fields for long periods of time, imposing unnecessary delays on human progress. As long as there are dozens of independent advanced countries, such efforts at taboo enforcement will always be breached as soon as the potential gains become irresistible.

        Of course there will always be some who are uncomfortable with such innovations. For all I know, there may still be people who are uncomfortable with lightning rods. The Amish have a right to exist. They don’t have a right to hold the rest of us back.

        At any rate, in the long run humanity seems to recognize that people like Charpentier and Doudna, not the political leaders and holy men, are the greatest achievers of progress. Most people today have some idea of what Galileo did, but hardly anyone except specialist historians remembers the name of the pope who persecuted him.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Infidel: First, please don’t ever concern yourself about the length of your responses. My posts are generally not characterized by brevity. I’ve been told that many people won’t read a post that’s longer than 500 words. So be it; my blog will only rarely appeal to them. Second, I always find your insights enlightening–even when I disagree. So fire away whenever you’re so inclined.

        I do understand your concern about civilization being held up by taboos. I’ve written that my own cautiousness about genetics stems from the year I spent in the early days of the Humane Genome Project, when I served as project editor of a study of what was then called ELSI: the ethical, legal, and social implications of the HGP. The cautions then, as now–I think–were not religious-based. Rather, they were of the “you can’t put the Genie back in the bottle” range. Scientists knew they were embarking on a bold new frontier that carried great potential for both good and harms.

        So I was glad to learn that there are still ELSI cautions raised and discussed as each progression occurs. The concerns about germline experiments also include worries about “designer babies” and eugenics. The future you posit about certain countries permitting edits for IQ while others do not would be less likely, I would hope, if there could be international agreements before such trials were to proceed. But there’s no doubt that scientists will always want to reach beyond where they are now–and some will proceed regardless of agreements.

        The other thing that concerns me is the vast amounts of money involved: I worry about what impact, if any, that fact can have on judgment and direction. Shortly after the two trials showing the potential for cancer were reported in 2018, the publication STAT actually wrote that after the appearance of their coverage, the stock value of specific companies dropped significantly. I thought the inclusion of that information in a publication describing the science was odd and somewhat troubling. The same publication came out a year later with the “CRISPR is on the Ascent Again” piece. I’m not impugning the validity of the reportage, but just like the CRISPR developer who declined to be identified because he had relationships with some of the companies, I think it’s useful to be aware of the role the almighty dollar–and all its international equivalents–sometimes play in decision-making. (It’s certainly a factor now in production/distribution of the COVID vaccine.)

        I found your closing comment, providing context to your earlier point, quite compelling.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Infidel: I put a lengthy response to you on my computer, but it’s not here on my phone. I’ll give it some time and then retype the damn thing, which essentially thanked you for very thoughtful and far-ranging comment, said I agree with your premise that technology is “the great liberator of humanity,” and also agree with your final paragraph. But I found some interesting studies that put Bradley’s findings in perspective and add updates on germline genetic editing.

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  2. I guess it’s a matter of the fundamental world-view one has. To me, the human race right now is like a caterpillar which is finally on the verge of transforming itself, through the exponential explosion of technology, into the godlike butterfly it was always destined to become. To simply remain a frail natural/biological species, with limited intelligence, limited senses, limited lifespan — that would be an existential failure and defeat, like a caterpillar that never becomes a butterfly, or a child that never grows up. Innovations like CRISPR excite me because they offer not only cures for disease but the possibility of taking more and more control over our own future development and nature as a species, instead of being at the mercy of blind forces like natural selection and accidents of mutation as we have been.

    Fortunately (from my point of view), such a failure seems impossible because what we’re seeing today is part of the natural progression of technology, which ultimately can’t be stopped or reversed. As I said in a blog post a while back, on the day when the first cave man chipped out the first flint arrowhead, the eventual human conquest of the galaxy became inevitable. Innovation has been speeding up dramatically for some time now, and I consider myself privileged to be living at a time when new developments like this are offering the chance to take control of our own destiny and enhance our potential as a species more fundamentally than ever before.

    Anyway, that’s where I’m coming from. I’ll be quiet now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Infidel: This is exciting, eye-opening stuff offering much food for thought. You’re right: I have focused solely on eradicating disease, and I’m glad you’ve broadened the conversation–and my thinking.

    When I expressed concern about your example of specific countries attempting and achieving the ability to double the IQs of much of their populations while others held back, I wasn’t reacting negatively to the concept. Rather, it was the idea that unless there were a level playing field worldwide, such a capability would widen the gaps among peoples in the developed, developing, and lesser developed countries, leading to all sorts of inequities and conflicts. That’s the kind of nexus in which politics and economics interfere with the power of technology to move us forward as a species.

    I’m also trying to square your thoughts with those of the designers featured in The Social Dilemma. I understand why, with your confidence in the power of technology to ultimately benefit humankind, you were impatient with that post. But these bright people expressed concern that the algorithms had gotten away from them: that the technology was no longer a tool–it was going in directions they never intended. It may sound like Sci Fi, but they were living with the result of their creations, and they felt it was out of control. So I carry that caveat with me as I try to envision the lovely world that you see.

    When you mentioned the progression to beautiful butterflies, I thought of one of my favorite and most-read posts. It opens with a man who has trained butterflies, using food as positive enforcement, to fly in unison, color-coordinated, to the sounds of a symphony orchestra. I learned from the research I did for that piece that butterflies are territorial; in essence, they’re bullies. I’m referring to this now to suggest that while we should always aim high, we’re inevitably going to come across unanticipated problems. How will we handle, genetically, human traits like aggression, which probably result from a complex array of genes, and can be both drivers of progress and forces for destruction?

    Please don’t feel you need to keep quiet now if your’e inclined to continue this dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. These are ideas I’ve been focusing on for more than a decade, so your post naturally evoked them for me.

      I don’t think that it would ever, in the history of science and technology, have been helpful to less-developed countries for the more-developed ones to slow down their progress. Yes, that progress can lead to greater inequality for a while, but it also encourages lagging countries to develop if they have a clear model in front of them of what can be achieved. This applies regardless of which countries are in the lead at a given time. During the Middle Ages, it would not have helped backward Europe if the advanced Middle East had slowed down its development of mathematics, medicine, astronomy, etc, even though the gap between the two grew steadily wider for a long time. The more the Middle East achieved, the more there was for Europe to assimilate later, when translations of scientific works from Arabic helped to trigger the Renaissance.

      An example of this today — it’s more vital than ever that we press on as fast as possible with developing cheap solar-power technology — especially because the need in what we used to call the Third World is so great. As the huge populations in India, the Middle East, Latin America, etc catch up with the West in standard of living, the global demand for electricity is going to skyrocket to multiples of anything seen so far. Nothing can stop that. It’s critical to ensure that that colossal demand can be met in ways that won’t intensify global warming.

      The main uses of CRISPR and similar techniques are medical, whether it’s in fighting disease or enhancing human capabilities. The faster we press on with developing it for those purposes, the more it will be able to benefit people in poor countries too, even if there’s a lag of a few years.

      Technology isn’t a self-aware force. It doesn’t have the ability to do things on its own, independent of human initiative. When people say that technology has “gotten away from them” or is “going in directions they never intended” and “out of control”, what they mean is that other people are using that technology in ways they disapprove of. As I said, the Amish have a right to exist, but they don’t have the right to hold the rest of us back.

      Aggression is a concern. Male primates are aggressive and vicious creatures by nature. For millions of years male-ape aggression could express itself only via fists and teeth, and now, in the blink of an eye by evolutionary standards, it’s got H-bombs. But look what has happened since the H-bomb came along. Human history has been full of all-out wars between the great powers of their day, and many of the great empires of the past fell due to wars with each other. Bu suddenly, since 1945, there have been no more such wars between the great powers, because it was obvious that such wars would have meant universal catastrophe. Fear is a great motivator. The H-bomb probably ranks second among human inventions by number of lives saved, after vaccines. If we can manage nuclear weapons, I think we can manage CRISPR.

      And civilization really has curbed our violent nature. Modern societies have remarkably low rates of death from violence compared to primitive hunter-gatherer societies, even when you factor in large-scale violent events like World War II in the case of the moderns. (On this topic, I strongly recommend this author.) We built civilization and its refinements partly as a gradual escape from the self-created hell we were living in before we had them. At any rate, if you worry about aggression and misuse of future technology, the most dangerous thing we could possibly do would be to try to stop or slow down that technology’s progress. That would just give bad actors like rogue states and terrorists the chance to pull ahead in its development, while preventing civilized governments form developing the tools and expertise to counter whatever they came up with.

      I mentioned the analogy with a child growing up. Most of the objections to our progress as a species would apply just as well to a young human reaching full adulthood. Should we/he really have such untrammeled power over our/his destiny? What if we/he make mistakes and get hurt? Well, young people exploring the new freedom and powers of adulthood often do make mistakes, and sometimes even suffer some harm in the process. But keeping them children forever isn’t the solution, and isn’t possible in any case. The same applies on the species level. There will be problems. There will be dangers. There always have been and there always will be. But we shouldn’t slow down, and we can’t slow down, and trying to slow down would just increase the danger while delaying the rewards.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Infidel: I appreciate the sweep of your vision here, as you’ve been thinking and reading about such issues for a long while. I guess I didn’t make myself clear about my worries about differences among countries. I wasn’t suggesting that some countries should hold back because others can’t keep up. Rather, I was thinking in terms of the importance of buy-in to international agreements that are widespread so that there are greater chances of shared opportunities that might reach countries that otherwise wouldn’t benefit. Maybe that’s Pollyannaish, but that’s what I had in mind.

        Re: “Technology isn’t a self-aware force.” I’m sure it’s true that some people say the technology’s gotten away from them because they don’t like how it’s being used. That was part of the message from the designers in The Social Dilemma. But several were quite emphatic that the algorithms were outpacing their ability to comprehend what lay ahead. If you ever get an opportunity to watch The Social Dilemma, I’d welcome your thoughts. It may not change your thinking, but I found the case these designers made quite compelling.

        Re: aggression. Here I realized that I had gone too far afield. I was pondering how there could be a genetic fix that would be like Baby Bear: curbing the greatest violence without inhibiting the positive drive that fits right in with your emphasis on humans moving forward. But then I reminded myself that I was getting too swept up by genetics determinism. Genetics is a huge aspect of our lives, but it isn’t THE only aspect. Human beings are much more complex than our genomes (nature v nurture, etc.). I look forward to reading what you wrote about aggression shortly.

        In essence, I’m supportive of the optimistic view you present. It does make it easier to look beyond all the injustices that surround us now. I’ll acknowledge that as hard as I try, sometimes the micro of today inhibits me from appreciating the macro view over time. But I shall read Pinker’s book and, though I’m more cautious by nature, keep your closing analogy in mind. And I thank you for taking the time to share your views with me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating and hopeful — and yes, jury out on the efficacy of this treatment and its price in unintended consequences. I’ve been reading here and there about CRISPR for a while now, but your piece is the most thorough I’ve had the pleasure of digesting. No surprise there — your work is excellent. Thanks for this closer look. And fingers crossed that this technology evolves to be as safe as we all hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Denise: What a lovely and generous comment for me to carry into the New Year! Thanks so much!

      May 2021 bring us all the happiness, tranquility—and end of the pandemic that we’ve been hungering for! All good wishes.

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  5. Infidel: With regard to your 2018 piece, which took me back to Margaret Mead, I think simply exploring the topic qualifies you to add “feminist” to the other “ists”in your bio.

    Food wastage, indeed! (Sorry. But that’s the most memorable line!) I can relate to that. Though an older friend with arthritic hands gave me a porous, spongy piece of fabric that works most of the time, when it doesn’t, I do have to ask my husband, and though he’s perfectly nice about it, I hate the evidence of weakness.

    More substantively, I have a number of male friends, and I value them because their life experiences and perspectives differ from mine and make life more interesting. So if I were the Decider, I think I’d let them stay. You, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. An interesting walk-through of an area about which I know quite little.
    As you might guess, I tend to be on the more reticent end of the spectrum on things like this. Both penicillin and Thalidomide were believed to be great advances. It was only time and experience that told us which. Mankind has a hubristic streak that sometimes gets us in trouble. We also have a record of genuine scientific and technical accomplishment. I hope Crispr is eventually counted among the latter.

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