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Lattman, Liu, Morrow and Ruhl elected AAAS fellows – UB Now: News and views for UB faculty and staff – University at Buffalo Reporter
Published November 30, 2020
Four UB professors have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science.
The honor is bestowed on AAAS members by their peers for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science applications. The UB faculty members were among 489 members to receive the prestigious distinction this year.
The new UB fellows include:
AAAS fellows will be recognized in the journal Science on Nov. 27. An induction ceremony will be held during the virtual AAAS Fellows Forum on Feb. 13.
Eaton Lattman (biological sciences)
Lattman was honored for his distinguished contributions in scholarship, education and leadership in the fields of molecular biophysics and structural biology.
A prolific researcher in crystallography and biophysics, Lattman has focused on protein folding and on development and improvement of methods in protein crystallography. He has pioneered the emerging field of using X-ray free electron lasers to study biological and nonbiological processes.
Lattman spent nearly his entire academic career at Johns Hopkins University, as professor of biophysics in both the School of Medicine and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, where he also served as dean of research and graduate education. He played a key role in establishing the Hopkins Institute for Biophysical Research.
In 2008, Lattman came to Buffalo to serve as chief executive officer at Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. He joined the UB Department of Structural Biology in 2009.
In 2013, he was instrumental in the awarding of a $25 million U.S. National Science Foundation grant to UB and its partners to establish BioXFEL, an X-ray laser science center, to transform the field of structural biology. It was UBs first NSF Science and Technology Center Grant. Lattman was named director and led the national consortium until 2017. Under his direction, the consortium made significant progress in refining X-ray laser techniques to study biological processes and innovating new approaches to use these methods to advance materials science and other nonbiological disciplines as well. He continues to serve as a member of the BioXFEL steering committee.
Xiufeng Liu (education)
Liu was recognized for his distinguished contributions to the fields of science education research, and communicating and interpreting science to the public.
Liu is renowned for his scholarship on measuring and evaluating student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). He served as the inaugural director of UBs Center for Educational Innovation, with a mission to improve university teaching, learning and assessment.
He also strives to increase scientific literacy among members of the public, and inspired a program at UB called Science and the Public that prepares museum curators, zoo directors, pharmacists and other informal science educators to teach science to a general audience, including by engaging in activities and debates related to science.
Liu has received more than $18 million in research funding, and published more than 100 academic articles and 10 books. He received a doctorate in science education from the University of British Columbia and a masters degree in chemical education from East China Normal University.
Janet Morrow (chemistry)
Morrow was honored for her distinguished contributions to the field of inorganic complexes and their biomedical applications, particularly for magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents and for nucleic acid modifications.
Morrow is an expert in bioinorganic chemistry, with a wide range of innovations and publications in the field. The central theme of her research is the synthesis of inorganic complexes for biomedical diagnostics, sensing or catalytic applications. Focus areas include research and development of novel MRI contrast agents, yeast cell labeling with metal complex probes to track infections, and bimodal imaging agents. Morrow is also an inventor and entrepreneur, having co-founded Ferric Contrast, a startup that is developing iron-containing MRI contrast agents.
She is a recipient of the Jacob F. Schoellkopf Medal presented by the Western New York section of the American Chemical Society, the UB Exceptional Scholar Award for Sustained Achievement, the National Science Foundation Award for Special Creativity and the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship. Morrow holds a doctorate in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a bachelors degree in chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Stefan Ruhl (dentistry and oral health sciences)
Ruhl was recognized for his distinguished contributions to the field of oral biology, particularly for work on glycan-mediated microbial adhesion in the oral cavity.
Ruhl is an internationally renowned expert on saliva, oral bacteria and the oral microbiome. His research attempts to unravel the roles that saliva and microorganisms play in health, including in adhesion to the teeth and surfaces of the mouth, defense against pathogens and colonization of the oral cavity. He investigates the molecular mechanisms of microbial binding to glycans, a common but little understood class of biomolecules that help bacteria attach to host surfaces, including those in the mouth. The goal of his lab is to harness tools that ultimately help scientists examine how the microorganisms bind to glycans in the mouth to form dental biofilms more commonly known as plaque increasing the risk for cavities and periodontal disease.
He was among the first researchers to catalogue the human salivary proteome, which is the entirety of proteins present in saliva and in salivary gland ductal secretions. Ruhl has led or participated in recent studies that have identified how saliva is made, tracing each salivary protein back to its source. He also discovered that 2 million years of eating meat and cooked food has led humans to develop a saliva that is now starkly different from that of chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest genetic relatives. This seminal discovery has resulted in collaborative projects exploring saliva to understand the factors that helped shape human evolution and, in particular, the evolution of the human mouth. These evolutionary projects identified a starch-digesting enzyme called amylase in the saliva of dogs and various other starch-consuming mammals, and through analysis of a salivary mucin protein found genetic evidence that humans may have mated with a ghost species of archaic humans.
Ruhl received the 2020 Distinguished Scientist Award in Salivary Research and the 2014 Salivary Researcher of the Year award from the International Association for Dental Research, as well as the UB Exceptional Scholar Award for Sustained Achievement. He holds a doctor of dental surgery degree and a doctoral degree in immunology from Georg-August University of Gttingen.
Future Visioning the Role of CRISPR Gene Editing: Navigating Law and Ethics to Regenerate Health and Cure Disease – IPWatchdog.com
Despite the projected growth in market applications and abundant investment capital, there is a danger that legal and ethical concerns related to genetic research could put the brakes on gene editing technologies and product programs emanating therefrom.
As society adjusts to a new world of social distance and remote everything, rapid advancements in the digital, physical, and biological spheres are accelerating fundamental changes to the way we live, work, and relate to one another. What Klaus Schwab prophesized in his 2015 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, is playing out before our very eyes. Quantum computing power, a network architecture that is moving function closer to the edge of our interconnected devices, bandwidth speeds of 5G and beyond, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are all working together to accelerate innovation in fundamental ways. Given the global pandemic, in the biological sphere, government industrial policy drives the public sector to work hand-in-glove with private industry and academia to develop new therapies and vaccines to treat and prevent COVID-19 and other lethal diseases. This post will envision the future of gene editing technologies and the legal and ethical challenges that could imperil their mission of saving lives.
There are thousands of diseases occurring in humans, animals, and plants caused by aberrant DNA sequences. Traditional small molecule and biologic therapies have only had minimal success in treating many of these diseases because they mitigate symptoms while failing to address the underlying genetic causes. While human understanding of genetic diseases has increased tremendously since the mapping of the human genome in the late 1990s, our ability to treat them effectively has been limited by our historical inability to alter genetic sequences.
The science of gene editing was born in the 1990s, as scientists developed tools such as zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) and TALE nucleases (TALENs) to study the genome and attempt to alter sequences that caused disease. While these systems were an essential first step to demonstrate the potential of gene editing, their development was challenging in practice due to the complexity of engineering protein-DNA interactions.
Then, in 2011, Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, a French professor of microbiology, genetics, and biochemistry, and Jennifer Doudna, an American professor of biochemistry, pioneered a revolutionary new gene-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and Cas9 stands for CRISPR-associated protein 9. In 2020, the revolutionary work of Drs. Charpentier and Doudna developing CRISPR/Cas9 were recognized with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The technology was also the source of a long-running and high-profile patent battle between two groups of scientsists.
CRISPR/Cas9 for gene editing came about from a naturally occurring viral defense mechanism in bacteria. The system is cheaper and easier to use than previous technologies. It delivers the Cas9 nuclease complexed with a synthetic guide RNA (gRNA) into a cell, cutting the cells genome at the desired location, allowing existing genes to be removed and new ones added to a living organisms genome. The technique is essential in biotechnology and medicine as it provides for the genomes to be edited in vivo with extremely high precision, efficiently, and with comparative ease. It can create new drugs, agricultural products, and genetically modified organisms or control pathogens and pests. More possibilities include the treatment of inherited genetic diseases and diseases arising from somatic mutations such as cancer. However, its use in human germline genetic modification is highly controversial.
The following diagram from CRISPR Therapeutics AG, a Swiss company, illustrates how it functions:
In the 1990s, nanotechnology and gene editing were necessary plot points for science fiction films. In 2020, developments like nano-sensors and CRISPR gene editing technology have moved these technologies directly into the mainstream, opening a new frontier of novel market applications. According to The Business Research Company, the global CRISPR technology market reached a value of nearly $700 million in 2019, is expected to more than double in 2020, and reach $6.7 billion by 2030. Market applications target all forms of life, from animals to plants to humans.
Gene editings primary market applications are for the treatment of genetically-defined diseases. CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing promises to enable the engineering of genomes of cell-based therapies and make them safer and available to a broader group of patients. Cell therapies have already begun to make a meaningful impact on specific diseases, and gene editing helps to accelerate that progress across diverse disease areas, including oncology and diabetes.
In the area of human therapy, millions of people worldwide suffer from genetic conditions. Gene-editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 have introduced a way to address the cause of debilitating illnesses like cystic fibrosis and create better interventions and therapies. They also have promising market applications for agriculture, food safety, supply, and distribution. For example, grocery retailers are even looking at how gene editing could impact the products they sell. Scientists have created gene-edited crops like non-browning mushrooms and mildew-resistant grapes experiments that are part of an effort to prevent spoilage, which could ultimately change the way food is sold.
Despite the inability to travel and conduct face-to-face meetings, attend industry conferences or conduct business other than remotely or with social distance, the investment markets for venture, growth, and private equity capital, as well as corporate R&D budgets, have remained buoyant through 2020 to date. Indeed, the third quarter of 2020 was the second strongest quarter ever for VC-backed companies, with 88 companies raising rounds worth $100 million or more according to the latest PwC/Moneytree report. Healthcare startups raised over $8 billion in the quarter in the United States alone. Gene-editing company Mammouth Biosciences raised a $45 million round of Series B capital in the second quarter of 2020. CRISPR Therapeutics AG raised more in the public markets in primary and secondary capital.
Bayer, Humboldt Fund and Leaps are co-leading a $65 million Series A round for Metagenomi, a biotech startup launched by UC Berkeley scientists. Metagenomi, which will be run by Berkeleys Brian Thomas, is developing a toolbox of CRISPR- and non-CRISPR-based gene-editing systems beyond the Cas9 protein. The goal is to apply machine learning to search through the genomes of these microorganisms, finding new nucleases that can be used in gene therapies. Other investors in the Series A include Sozo Ventures, Agent Capital, InCube Ventures and HOF Capital. Given the focus on new therapies and vaccines to treat the novel coronavirus, we expect continued wind in the sails for gene-editing companies, particularly those with strong product portfolios that leverage the technology.
Despite the projected growth in market applications and abundant investment capital, there is a danger that legal and ethical concerns related to genetic research could put the brakes on gene-editing technologies and product programs emanating therefrom. The possibility of off-target effects, lack of informed consent for germline therapy, and other ethical concerns could cause government regulators to put a stop on important research and development required to cure disease and regenerate human health.
Gene-editing companies can only make money by developing products that involve editing the human genome. The clinical and commercial success of these product candidates depends on public acceptance of gene-editing therapies for the treatment of human diseases. Public attitudes could be influenced by claims that gene editing is unsafe, unethical, or immoral. Consequently, products created through gene editing may not gain the acceptance of the government, the public, or the medical community. Adverse public reaction to gene therapy, in general, could result in greater government regulation and stricter labeling requirements of gene-editing products. Stakeholders in government, third-party payors, the medical community, and private industry must work to create standards that are both safe and comply with prevailing ethical norms.
The most significant danger to growth in gene-editing technologies lies in ethical concerns about their application to human embryos or the human germline. In 2016, a group of scientists edited the genome of human embryos to modify the gene for hemoglobin beta, the gene in which a mutation occurs in patients with the inherited blood disorder beta thalassemia. Although conducted in non-viable embryos, it shocked the public that scientists could be experimenting with human eggs, sperm, and embryos to alter human life at creation. Then, in 2018, a biophysics researcher in China created the first human genetically edited babies, twin girls, causing public outcry (and triggering government sanctioning of the researcher). In response, the World Health Organization established a committee to advise on the creation of standards for gene editing oversight and governance standards on a global basis.
Some influential non-governmental agencies have called for a moratorium on gene editing, particularly as applied to altering the creation or editing of human life. Other have set forth guidelines on how to use gene-editing technologies in therapeutic applications. In the United States, the National Institute of Health has stated that it will not fund gene-editing studies in human embryos. A U.S. statute called The Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for research projects that would create or destroy human life. Laws in the United Kingdom prohibit genetically modified embryos from being implanted into women. Still, embryos can be altered in research labs under license from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
Regulations must keep pace with the change that CRISPR-Cas9 has brought to research labs worldwide. Developing international guidelines could be a step towards establishing cohesive national frameworks. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended seven principles for the governance of human genome editing, including promoting well-being, transparency, due care, responsible science, respect for persons, fairness, and transnational co-operation. In the United Kingdom, a non-governmental organization formed in 1991 called The Nuffield Council has proposed two principles for the ethical acceptability of genome editing in the context of reproduction. First, the intervention intends to secure the welfare of the individual born due to such technology. Second, social justice and solidarity principles are upheld, and the intervention should not result in an intensifying of social divides or marginalizing of disadvantaged groups in society. In 2016, in application of the same, the Crick Institute in London was approved to use CRISPR-Cas9 in human embryos to study early development. In response to a cacophony of conflicting national frameworks, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing was formed in 2015 by NGOs in the United States, the United Kingdom and China, and is working to harmonize regulations global from both the ethical and safety perspectives. As CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna has written in a now infamous editorial in SCIENCE, stakeholders must engage in thoughtfully crafting regulations of the technology without stifling it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rely more on new technologies to keep us healthy, adapt to working from home, and more. The pandemic makes us more reliant on innovative digital, biological, and physical solutions. It has created a united sense of urgency among the public and private industry (together with government and academia) to be more creative about using technology to regenerate health. With continued advances in computing power, network architecture, communications bandwidths, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and gene editing, society will undoubtedly find more cures for debilitating disease and succeed in regenerating human health. As science advances, it inevitably intersects with legal and ethical norms, both for individuals and civil society, and there are new externalities to consider. Legal and ethical norms will adapt, rebalancing the interests of each. The fourth industrial revolution is accelerating, and hopefully towards curing disease.
Future Visioning The Role Of CRISPR Gene Editing: Navigating Law And Ethics To Regenerate Health And Cure Disease – Technology – United States -…
"Despite the projected growth in market applications andabundant investment capital, there is a danger that legal andethical concerns related to genetic research could put the brakeson gene editing technologies and product programs emanatingtherefrom."
There are thousands of diseases occurring in humans, animals,and plants caused by aberrant DNA sequences. Traditional smallmolecule and biologic therapies have only had minimal success intreating many of these diseases because they mitigate symptomswhile failing to address the underlying genetic causes. While humanunderstanding of genetic diseases has increased tremendously sincethe mapping of the human genome in the late 1990s, our ability totreat them effectively has been limited by our historical inabilityto alter genetic sequences.
The science of gene editing was born in the 1990s, as scientistsdeveloped tools such as zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) and TALEnucleases (TALENs) to study the genome and attempt to altersequences that caused disease. While these systems were anessential first step to demonstrate the potential of gene editing,their development was challenging in practice due to the complexityof engineering protein-DNA interactions.
Then, in 2011, Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, a French professor ofmicrobiology, genetics, and biochemistry, and Jennifer Doudna, anAmerican professor of biochemistry, pioneered a revolutionary newgene-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9. Clustered Regularly InterspacedShort Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and Cas9 stands forCRISPR-associated protein 9. In 2020, the revolutionary work ofDrs. Charpentier and Doudna developing CRISPR/Cas9 were recognizedwith the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The technology was also thesource of a long-running and high-profile patent battle between two groups ofscientsists.
CRISPR/Cas9 for gene editing came about from a naturallyoccurring viral defense mechanism in bacteria. The system ischeaper and easier to use than previous technologies. It deliversthe Cas9 nuclease complexed with a synthetic guide RNA (gRNA) intoa cell, cutting the 'cell's genome at the desired location,allowing existing genes to be removed and new ones added to aliving organism's genome. The technique is essential inbiotechnology and medicine as it provides for the genomes to beedited in vivo with extremely high precision, efficiently, and withcomparative ease. It can create new drugs, agricultural products,and genetically modified organisms or control pathogens and pests.More possibilities include the treatment of inherited geneticdiseases and diseases arising from somatic mutations such ascancer. However, its use in human germline genetic modification ishighly controversial.
The following diagram from CRISPR Therapeutics AG, a Swisscompany, illustrates how it functions:
In the 1990s, nanotechnology and gene editing were necessaryplot points for science fiction films. In 2020, developments likenano-sensors and CRISPR gene editing technology have moved thesetechnologies directly into the mainstream, opening a new frontierof novel market applications. According to The Business ResearchCompany, the global CRISPR technology market reached a value ofnearly $700 million in 2019, is expected to more than double in2020, and reach $6.7 billion by 2030. Market applications targetall forms of life, from animals to plants to humans.
Gene editing's primary market applications are for thetreatment of genetically-defined diseases. CRISPR/Cas9 gene editingpromises to enable the engineering of genomes of cell-basedtherapies and make them safer and available to a broader group ofpatients. Cell therapies have already begun to make a meaningfulimpact on specific diseases, and gene editing helps to acceleratethat progress across diverse disease areas, including oncology anddiabetes.
In the area of human therapy, millions of people worldwidesuffer from genetic conditions. Gene-editing technologies likeCRISPR-Cas9 have introduced a way to address the cause ofdebilitating illnesses like cystic fibrosis and create betterinterventions and therapies. They also have promising marketapplications for agriculture, food safety, supply, anddistribution. For example, grocery retailers are even looking athow gene editing could impact the products they sell. Scientistshave created gene-edited crops like non-browning mushrooms andmildew-resistant grapes - experiments that are part of an effort toprevent spoilage, which could ultimately change the way food issold.
Despite the inability to travel and conduct face-to-facemeetings, attend industry conferences or conduct business otherthan remotely or with social distance, the investment markets forventure, growth, and private equity capital, as well as corporateR&D budgets, have remained buoyant through 2020 to date.Indeed, the third quarter of 2020 was the second strongest quarterever for VC-backed companies, with 88 companies raising roundsworth $100 million or more according to the latest PwC/Moneytreereport. Healthcare startups raised over $8 billion in the quarterin the United States alone. Gene-editing company MammouthBiosciences raised a $45 million round of Series B capital in thesecond quarter of 2020. CRISPR Therapeutics AG raised more in thepublic markets in primary and secondary capital.
Bayer, Humboldt Fund and Leaps are co-leading a $65 million Series A round for Metagenomi, abiotech startup launched by UC Berkeley scientists. Metagenomi,which will be run by Berkeley's Brian Thomas, is developing atoolbox of CRISPR- and non-CRISPR-based gene-editing systems beyondthe Cas9 protein. The goal is to apply machine learning to searchthrough the genomes of these microorganisms, finding new nucleasesthat can be used in gene therapies. Other investors in the Series Ainclude Sozo Ventures, Agent Capital, InCube Ventures and HOFCapital. Given the focus on new therapies and vaccines to treat thenovel coronavirus, we expect continued wind in the sails forgene-editing companies, particularly those with strong productportfolios that leverage the technology.
Despite the projected growth in market applications and abundantinvestment capital, there is a danger that legal and ethicalconcerns related to genetic research could put the brakes ongene-editing technologies and product programs emanating therefrom.The possibility of off-target effects, lack of informed consent forgermline therapy, and other ethical concerns could cause governmentregulators to put a stop on important research and developmentrequired to cure disease and regenerate human health.
Gene-editing companies can only make money by developingproducts that involve editing the human genome. The clinical andcommercial success of these product candidates depends on publicacceptance of gene-editing therapies for the treatment of humandiseases. Public attitudes could be influenced by claims that geneediting is unsafe, unethical, or immoral. Consequently, productscreated through gene editing may not gain the acceptance of thegovernment, the public, or the medical community. Adverse publicreaction to gene therapy, in general, could result in greatergovernment regulation and stricter labeling requirements ofgene-editing products. Stakeholders in government, third-partypayors, the medical community, and private industry must work tocreate standards that are both safe and comply with prevailingethical norms.
The most significant danger to growth in gene-editingtechnologies lies in ethical concerns about their application tohuman embryos or the human germline. In 2016, a group of scientistsedited the genome of human embryos to modify the gene forhemoglobin beta, the gene in which a mutation occurs in patientswith the inherited blood disorder beta thalassemia. Althoughconducted in non-viable embryos, it shocked the public thatscientists could be experimenting with human eggs, sperm, andembryos to alter human life at creation. Then, in 2018, abiophysics researcher in China created the first human geneticallyedited babies, twin girls, causing public outcry (and triggeringgovernment sanctioning of the researcher). In response, the WorldHealth Organization established a committee to advise on thecreation of standards for gene editing oversight and governancestandards on a global basis.
Some influential non-governmental agencies have called for amoratorium on gene editing, particularly as applied to altering thecreation or editing of human life. Other have set forth guidelineson how to use gene-editing technologies in therapeuticapplications. In the United States, the National Institute ofHealth has stated that it will not fund gene-editing studies inhuman embryos. A U.S. statute called "The Dickey-WickerAmendment" prohibits the use of federal funds for researchprojects that would create or destroy human life. Laws in theUnited Kingdom prohibit genetically modified embryos from beingimplanted into women. Still, embryos can be altered in researchlabs under license from the Human Fertilisation and EmbryologyAuthority.
Regulations must keep pace with the change that CRISPR-Cas9 hasbrought to research labs worldwide. Developing international guidelines could be a steptowards establishing cohesive national frameworks. The U.S.National Academy of Sciences recommended seven principles for thegovernance of human genome editing, including promoting well-being,transparency, due care, responsible science, respect for persons,fairness, and transnational co-operation. In the United Kingdom, anon-governmental organization formed in 1991 called The NuffieldCouncil has proposed two principles for the ethical acceptabilityof genome editing in the context of reproduction. First, theintervention intends to secure the welfare of the individual borndue to such technology. Second, social justice and solidarityprinciples are upheld, and the intervention should not result in anintensifying of social divides or marginalizing of disadvantagedgroups in society. In 2016, in application of the same, the CrickInstitute in London was approved to use CRISPR-Cas9 in humanembryos to study early development. In response to a cacophony ofconflicting national frameworks, the International Summit on HumanGene Editing was formed in 2015 by NGOs in the United States, theUnited Kingdom and China, and is working to harmonize regulationsglobal from both the ethical and safety perspectives. As CRISPRco-inventor Jennifer Doudna has written in a now infamous editorialin SCIENCE, "stakeholders must engage in thoughtfullycrafting regulations of the technology without stiflingit."
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rely more on newtechnologies to keep us healthy, adapt to working from home, andmore. The pandemic makes us more reliant on innovative digital,biological, and physical solutions. It has created a united senseof urgency among the public and private industry (together withgovernment and academia) to be more creative about using technologyto regenerate health. With continued advances in computing power, networkarchitecture, communications bandwidths, artificial intelligence,machine learning, and gene editing, society will undoubtedly findmore cures for debilitating disease and succeed in regeneratinghuman health. As science advances, it inevitably intersects withlegal and ethical norms, both for individuals and civil society,and there are new externalities to consider. Legal and ethicalnorms will adapt, rebalancing the interests of each. The fourthindustrial revolution is accelerating, and hopefully towards curingdisease.
Originally published by IPWatchdog.com, November 24,2020.
The content of this article is intended to provide a generalguide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be soughtabout your specific circumstances.
Over centuries of human existence, we have made significant inventions that have modified the kind of lives we lead today. From the invention of the wheel to the invention of the computer that we carry inside our pockets- we, as humans, have evolved tremendously on account of technological and scientific advancements. Many such innovations have also been made in the field of biology or human reproduction. From birth control to IVF procedures- we have come a long way.
But what if there was a technology that allowed modification of the DNA present in our genes to create a designer baby? Apart from being the feature of a famous movie- youll be amazed to know that the technology to create genetically modified DNA exists in the world today. How does the technology work? Is it safe? Are there any ethical concerns revolving around the issue, AND will the future of humanity have genetically designed babies? Lets find out!
When you alter a babys genetic makeup to remove a particular gene(s) associated with a disease, you successfully create a designer baby. How is it done? One way is to use a process is called preimplantation genetic diagnosis. This process analyses a wide range of human embryos associated with a particular disease and selecting seeds that have the desired genetic makeup.
Another less popular method is called Germline engineering, which enables altering a babys genetic information before birth. The desired genetic material is introduced into the embryo itself or the sperm and egg cells, either by delivering the selected genes directly into the cell or using the gene-editing technology.
The latter is an illegal procedure in various nations, and the only instance of the process being used was in the case of Lulu and Nana, a pair of Chinese twins in 2019. Subsequently, the development attracted widespread criticism for the same.
Genetic editing is done either by removing small sections of the existing genome or by introducing new segments of DNA into the genome. CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a genome editing technology introduced by researchers Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. The technology allows scientists to cheaply and very rapidly alter the genome of almost any organism. CRISPR makes use of an enzyme called Cas-9, which is used to cut out selected sections of DNA or add new units to the existing DNA.
The technology introduced by CRISPR can be used on various organisms, plants, and animals to modify their DNA since all living species contain genes. This provides much scope for altering a bodies immune system to destroy cancer cells or battle sickle cell anemia by introducing non-sickle cell genes. It can be used to make better crops, enhance drugs, and to treat severe diseases. However, the debate regarding the ethical standing of gene editing comes in when deciding what do we want to use it for.
The gene-editing technology can be used on somatic cells and germ cells, which offers varied results. While any changes made to somatic cells, which are particular cells present in, say, our liver or lungs- will not be passed onto the future generation. However, changes made to germ cells will be transferred into the subsequent generations. Hence, posing a threat to civilization.
Credits: Netflix: explained
Using the gene-editing technology for cosmetic purposes such as changing the eye color, introducing freckles, etc., further questions the moral and ethical standards of the procedure. It is no surprise that biological processes such as these are not very economical and can only be accessed by a particular section of society. This is arguably one of the most controversial arguments against designer DNA. This would enable parents or doctors will to dictate traits such as gender, height, and even the intellect of their baby. This would give an advantage to people who can afford gene-editing, potentially leading to a genetic class systemenabling science to enable evolution instead of nature.
The authors of the news study have not dismissed the ethical concerns surrounding the same and have actively advocated the use of technology only for preventing serious diseases and conditions. Despite the concerns regarding the possibility of a genetic class system, the fact remains that Talents and traits are genetically complexabout93,000 genetic variations influence even more superficial features like height. Gene editing will not and cannot guarantee superior traits and wont be capable of curing several illnesses.
While I appreciate the fear, I think we need to realize that with every technology we have had these fears, and they havent been realized, said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at University of Wisconsin-Madison, who co-led the national committee on human embryo editing
Designer babies or designer DNA can hence, be something that can find a middle ground between advancement and ethics in the future.
Continue reading here:
Are Designer Babies Going to be the Future of Mankind? - Sambad English
The existence of human life on this planet relies entirely on a biochemical process called photosynthesis, which enables green plants to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into chemical energy in the form of carbohydrates and plant proteins, which humans and and other animals consume in order to sustain their lives. Even among peoples who rely almost entirely on animal foods in their diets due to the extreme climates they live in, such as the Inuit (Eskimo) tribes in Alaska, who live on seal, walrus, and whale meat, survive because those mammals consume small fish, which in turn feed on plankton, algae, and other fish and their eggs. Without plants, there would be no life on this planet.
As I described in a blog in March of 2019, humans are believed to have raised the first domesticated plant species called emmer, an ancestor of modern wheat and barley varieties, about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. Squash was the first crop domesticated in the Western hemisphere, in ancient Mexico, during the same period. Maize (corn) followed about 2,000 years later, also in meso-America, and rice was first cultivated in the Indus valley in Asia about 4,500 years ago. The youngest of the major food crops which dominate consumption and trade worldwide is soybeans, which was first cultivated in north China more than 3,000 years ago. Combined, corn, wheat, and rice account for about 60 percent of all calories and protein obtained by humans from plants.
When humans migrated across the globe in search of new places to live, they took their staple crops with them, but some of them also found and eventually adopted other crops being raised by the native populations, some of which over time became staple crops to them. As I described in my recently published book on the history of U.S. agricultural policy (co-authored with Dr. Steve Halbrook), many of the new arrivals from Great Britain who had farmed previously, especially those settling in the colonies in the middle Atlantic area such as Pennsylvania and Maryland, insisted on cultivating food crops they were familiar with, such as wheat, rye, and barley. In the northern colonies such as Massachusetts, where most of the new arrivals had not farmed previously, they adopted the crops their native neighbors had farmed for millennia--beans, squash, pumpkins, and maize (corn), using those crops in 3-5 year rotations. In the southern colonies, two of the most important crops were not produced for food--tobacco and cotton, both of which were first grown in the Jamestown settlement in Virginia in the 1610s with seeds brought from Caribbean islands.
While throughout history, farmers have sought to identify and preserve good performing seeds for their crops, the first scientifically based crop breeding work did not occur until after the groundbreaking work of Gregor Mendel in the middle of the 19th century. Mendel was an Austrian monk who demonstrated the rules of heredity by systematically cross-breeding pea plants and studying the traits which appeared in the offspring plants. However, the full significance of Mendel's work was not recognized until nearly the turn of the 20th century (more than three decades later) with the rediscovery and application of his laws to commercial plant breeding efforts. John Garton, an English agriculturalist, was one of the first to cross-pollinate agricultural plants and commercialize the newly created varieties. He began experimenting with the artificial cross pollination initially of cereal plants in the 1890s, then branched out to herbage species and root crops and developed far reaching techniques in plant breeding
The next major breakthrough came with the shuttle breeding approach developed by Dr. Norman Borlaug in his work on wheat at the institute that eventually became CIMMYT (International Wheat and Maize Research) outside of Mexico City, starting in the late 1940s. Working in a mild climate that allowed for multiple crops in a year in different growing conditions, he was able to relatively quickly identify and refine traits that led to high-yielding, disease resistant varieties of wheat that were eventually adopted in many parts of the world. This work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, for for having given a well-founded hope - the green revolution.
The emergence of genetic engineering techniques led to the first genetically modified organisms (GMO's) to be developed and released for commercial use in the mid-1990s. The first wave of such crops, mainly utilizing popular row crops such as corn, soybeans, and cotton, to add new traits such as insect resistance and pesticide resistance through the insertion of genetic material from other organisms, most commonly the bacillus thuringiensis (BT) bacterium. More recently, new techniques have been developed to enable editing DNA segments of individual crops themselves, by turning on or shutting off certain genes that already exist within specific organisms. These techniques, known as CRISPR or CAS9, recently won recognition through the awarding of the 2020 Nobel Prize for chemistry to their developers, Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck institute in Germany and Dr. Jennifer Doudna from U.C.-Berkeley.
For the last decade or so, plant scientists around the world have been working on ways to improve the photosynthetic process itself, by improving the efficiency with which plants convert water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide into plant growth. Much of that work is taking place through the RIPE project (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) headquartered at the University of Illinois, funded primarily by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K.s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (formerly the Department for International Development, or DFID). In research published in 2019, efforts to engineer alternate pathways to refine the photosynthesis process were found to drastically shorten the trip and save enough resources to boost plant growth by 40 percent. This is the first time that an engineered photorespiration fix has been tested in real-world agronomic conditions. Other work is underway at a consortium of universities to develop rice varieties that use the more efficient C4 photosynthesis pathway such as is found in corn and sugarcane, eschewing the less efficient C3 pathway that rice plants currently utilize. A November 2020 article described their current work, which involved assembling five genes from maize that code for five enzymes in the C4 photosynthetic pathway into a single gene construct and installing it into rice plants.
Representative image of an explosion in space. Photo: Pixabay
At a time when humans are threatening the extinction of so many other species, it might not seem so surprising that some people think that the extinction of our own species would be a good thing. Take, for example, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose founder believes that our extinction would put an end to the damage we inflict on each other and ecosystems more generally.
Or theres the South African philosopher David Benatar, who argues that bringing people into existence always does them harm. He recommends we cease procreating and gradually desert the Earth.
But humans arent the only beings to feel pain. Non-human animals would continue suffering without us. So, driven by a desire to eliminate suffering entirely, some people have shockingly advocated taking the rest of nature with us. They recommend that we actively abolish the world, rather than simply desert it.
This disturbing and extremist position goes surprisingly far back in history.
Around 1,600 years ago, Saint Augustine suggested that humans stop procreating. He endorsed this, however, because he wanted to hasten the Last Judgement and the eternity of joy thereafter.
If you dont believe in an afterlife, this becomes a less attractive option. Youd have to be motivated exclusively by removing suffering from nature, without any promise of gaining supernatural rewards. Probably the first person to advocate human extinction in this way was Arthur Schopenhauer. He did so 200 years ago, in 1819, urging that we spare the coming generations of the burden of existence.
Schopenhauer saw existence as pain so he believed we should stop bringing humans into existence. And he was clear about the result if everyone obeyed: The human race would die out.
But what about the pain of non-human animals? Schopenhauer had an answer, but it wasnt a convincing one. He was a philosophical idealist, believing that the existence of external nature depends on our self-consciousness of it. So, with the abolition of human brains, the sufferings of less self-aware animals would also vanish as they ceased to exist without us around to perceive them.
Even on Schopenhauers own terms, theres a problem. What if other intelligent and self-conscious beings exist? Perhaps on other planets? Surely, then, our sacrifice would mean nothing; existence and painful perception of it would continue. It fell to Schopenhauers disciple, Eduard von Hartmann, to propose a more complete solution.
Abolishing the universe
Hartmann, born in Berlin in 1842, wrote a system of pessimistic philosophy that was almost as lengthy as his impressive beard. Infamous in his own time, but completely forgotten in ours, Hartmann proposed a shockingly radical vision.
Writing in 1869, Hartmann rebuked Schopenhauer for thinking of the problem of suffering in only a local and temporary sense. His predecessors vision of human extinction by sexual continence would not suffice. Hartmann was convinced that, after a few aeons, another self-conscious species would re-evolve on Earth. This would merely perpetuate the misery of existence.
Hartmann also believed that life exists on other planets. Given his belief that most of it was probably unintelligent, the suffering of such beings would be helpless. They wouldnt be able to do anything about it.
So, rather than only destroying our own kind, Hartmann thought that, as intelligent beings, we are obligated to find a way to eliminate suffering, permanently and universally. He believed that it is up to humanity to annihilate the universe: it is our duty, he wrote, to cause the whole kosmos to disappear.
Hartmann hoped that if humanity did not prove up to this task then some planets might evolve beings that would be, long after our own sun is frozen. But he didnt think this meant we could be complacent. He noted the stringency of conditions required for a planet to be habitable (let alone evolve creatures with complex brains), and concluded that the duty might fall exclusively on humans, here and now.
Also Read: How Humanity Came To Contemplate Its Possible Extinction a Timeline
Hartmann was convinced this was the purpose of creation: that our universe exists in order to evolve beings compassionate and clever enough to decide to abolish existence itself. He imagined this final moment as a shockwave of deadly euthanasia rippling outwards from Earth, blotting out the existence of this cosmos until all its world-lenses and nebulae have been abolished.
He remained unclear as to exactly how this goal would be achieved. Speaking vaguely of humanitys increasing global unification and spiritual disillusion, he hinted to future scientific and technological discoveries. He was, thankfully, a metaphysician not a physicist.
Hartmanns philosophy is fascinating. It is also unimaginably wrong. This is because he confuses the eradication of suffering with the eradication of sufferers. Conflating this distinction leads to crazy visions of omnicide. To get rid of suffering you dont need to get rid of sufferers: you could instead try removing the causes of pain. We should eliminate suffering, not the sufferer.
Indeed, so long as there are intelligent beings around, theres at least the opportunity for a radical removal of suffering. Philosophers such as David Pearce even argue that, in the future, technologies like genetic engineering will be able to entirely phase it out, abolishing pain from the Earth. With the right interventions, Pearce contends, humans and non-humans could plausibly be driven by gradients of bliss, not privation and pain.
This wouldnt necessarily need to be a Brave New World, populated by blissed-out, stupefied beings: plausibly, people could still be highly motivated, just by pursuing a range of sublime joys, rather than avoiding negative feeling. Pearce even argues that, in the far future, our descendants might be able to effect the same change on other biospheres, throughout the observable universe.
So, even if you think removing suffering is our absolute priority, there is astronomical value in us sticking around. We may owe it to sufferers generally.
Thomas Moynihan, researcher, Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.