Gene-Editing? What in the World is that?

Author: Teagan Waters

What are Genes?

And no, I do mean the type of pants. Genes, according to Merriam Webster, are “a specific sequence of nucleotides in DNA or RNA that is located usually on a chromosome and that is the functional unit of inheritance controlling the transmission and expression of one or more

traits by specifying the structure of a particular polypeptide and especially a protein or controlling the function of other genetic material”. In simpler terms, though, genes are what make you you. Everyone has their own sets of genes that they get from their parents, who got their genes from their parents, and so on and so forth. Genes give you your eye color, your hair color, your freckles, your nose shape, and so much more. Genes also give your cells instructions to make protein, which is a molecule vital for the health of any human being. All in all, without genes we would be, quite literally, nothing.


How Editing Works

Despite all the good things genes do for us, genes can also create huge problems for some people. Harmful genetic mutations can greatly affect someone’s quality of life and even lead to death. Like the editing of an essay, gene-editing fixes the “mistakes” in one’s genes. Doctors and scientists have found a way to correct these common mutations by rewriting the incorrect genetic codes. A tool named Crispr-Cas9 is used to find the mutated genes in an organism and cut off the inadequate fragments. In a more simple way, this tool “turns off” the genes that do harm to one’s body. Now, this is just the surface of how it all works. To find more information, there are many websites that provide long and detailed explanations of how genes are edited. This topic goes in many different directions, so if you’re looking for something more in-depth, start Googling and you’ll find loads!


The Good

Unfortunately, harmful genetic mutations are not uncommon. Cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and sickle cell anemia are a few examples out of the many genetic mutations that one in twenty-five children are diagnosed with. Gene editing techniques are enhancing rapidly, and soon they might be able to cure most illnesses. Scientists have already found a way to tweak someone’s genes to be resistant to HIV infections and to help people’s immune systems fight off cancer. In a world where so many people face the loss of their loved ones way too early, gene-editing gives us hope for the future.


The Bad

You might be thinking, how can something that is saving lives have a negative side? Well, in reality, genetic editing is an infant in the scientific world. It has barely been used on human beings. Despite how much some doctors will try and tell you otherwise, the process is way too new for them to understand or even comes across every given side effect. This process is also not fully effective in any means. Most of the time, only some of the patient’s cells will be treated, leaving the other, still mutated genes, with the capability of doing harm. Also, if these edits don’t reach where they are supposed to, perfectly healthy genes doing their job will be disrupted and new disorders in the human being could emerge.


The Ugly

Another huge problem that has appeared with this fascinating exercise is that some doctors are more interested in using genetic editing to “fix” things that aren’t bad. Some say they are researching the possibility of making people immune to some viruses or mental disorders. Despite how bad that stuff can be, it is what makes us all unique. When looking at the bigger picture, things can get scary. Will it become more of a cosmetic process and cause everyone to be born the same? Specific doctors and teachers won't have anyone to teach and treat and they will lose jobs. Life will slowly start to become the same for everyone, and I don't know about you, but that doesn’t sound too desirable to me.


Final Thoughts

Without having many experiments performed or knowledge on how far this process will go in the future, it's hard to say much more about it. Hopefully, the improvement of this practice will create a world with less fear and grief. If scientists stay along the path of curing diseases, rather than trying to make babies perfect, I believe genetic editing has a chance to create a better life for everyone. What do you think?

 

Author: Teagan Waters


Teagan Waters is a sophomore in high school. She loves all sciences and math, and she is a competitive gymnast.

 

Citations:

  1. Marchione, M. (2018, November 26). Chinese researcher claims first gene-edited babies. AP NEWS. https://apnews.com/article/4997bb7aa36c45449b488e19ac83e86d.

  2. Wang, H., & Yang, H. (n.d.). Gene-edited babies: What went wrong and what could go wrong. PLOS Biology. https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.3000224.



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