DNA editing takes a serious step forward — for better or worse

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The L.A. Times has a story (below) questioning whether or not DNA editing is a good thing or a bad thing. We’re all aware that there are serious ethical and safety implication of doing this sort of research. What is the Christian to make of all this?  In “The Christian and Genetic Engineering” Michael McKenzie calls to our attention that, “Humans are both finite and sinful. We lack both the wisdom and purity necessary to decide matters of human “perfection.” It is, therefore, immoral to use such genetic technologies as human eugenics and human cloning. Thus a theology of health and disease (as opposed to “enhancement”) must be developed in accordance with sound biblical guidelines.”

According to Scripture “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  With the exception of Jesus Christ, who led a sinless life, every single person born into this world is a sinner.  That included biologists who are tampering with DNA.

McKenzie’ goes on to say:

Humans are God’s highest creation and are commanded to be good stewards of the earth and its resources. Thus we have a mandate to engage in genetic research and therapy, when it is directed toward the healing end of medicine.

Then he closes with this statement:

Whatever the strategy chosen, the history of science is crystal clear on one point: genetic science will not wait for Christians to catch up. By the time this work is published, new discoveries will have been made and new claims put forth. Under the flagship of the Human Genome Project, genetic information is accumulating at a staggering rate. Christians must first become genetically informed; then, with data in hand, they must be able to address highly technical issues with scriptural principles. Considering what’s at stake, this task may be one of the most necessary — albeit one of the most difficult — ever faced by the body of Christ.

In her piece “DNA editing takes a serious step forward — for better or worse” L.A. Times columnist Eryn Brown writes:

It’s a scenario that has haunted biologists since the dawn of the DNA age: the evil scientist custom-crafting a human being with test tubes and Petri dishes.

So when a Chinese team revealed last month that it had used a new laboratory technique to alter a gene in human embryos, it set off an urgent debate over the ethics — and wisdom — of tinkering with the most basic building blocks of life.

The technology makes genetic manipulations that were theoretical in the past seem easy to achieve — and soon.

If scientists figure out how to do it in a way that’s safe for patients, gene editing could produce tremendously beneficial medical treatments. The Chinese researchers, for instance, were trying to repair a defect that causes beta thalassemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder.

But a simple way to alter DNA could open the door to more frightening eugenic pursuits. That makes people nervous.

“The positive side is, it allows regular biologists to change the DNA in any organism. The negative side is, it allows regular biologists to change the DNA in any organism,” said Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church. “You can twist any technology into something bad.”

In the last few months, many researchers have come to realize that the new gene editing tool, known as CRISPR/Cas9, might provide an easy means for molding a person when he or she is just a single-celled embryo.

CRISPR/Cas9 makes it possible for nearly any scientist to edit DNA in nearly any cell. In the last couple of years, scientists have used it to edit genes in adult human cells, including bone marrow cells that may be modified to make people resistant to HIV. Researchers have also used it on animal embryos, including an experiment that proved it was possible to create primates with customized versions of genes involved in immune function and metabolism.

With thousands of labs using the technology, it seemed inevitable that someone would try it on human embryos.

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