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5 ways CRISPR will reshape humanity and the world
A transformational tool for the future of the world.
- The 'cut and paste' DNA tool CRISPR will one day eliminate deadly diseases.
- The technology will give us the capability to genetically design our children and perhaps one day ourselves.
- CRISPR is already revolutionizing certain fields of medicine.
Genetic engineering has been in a rapid pace of development these past few years. Experts believe that CRISPR, the gene editing technology responsible for much of this progress will completely revolutionize the world. We are now playing with the genome on a scale we've never broached before.
In comparison to other genetic engineering tools, CRISPR, is an accurate, cheap and highly efficient method that's easy to use. Discovered in the 1990s, it's a tool combined with specific RNA that allows it to either insert or delete a genetic sequence in a targeted DNA. Currently, the patent for CRISPR is pending as there is a legal dispute between two separate teams of scientists.
The new power to alter DNA – our blueprint for life – brings us with many new questions and ethical quandaries. Yet, the overwhelming fact is that this technology will bring about undreamed of possibilities.
Whether that's stomping out all diseases endemic to our genes, reviving extinct species or augmenting ourselves into transhumans, we're in for quite a ride. Here are some of the most exciting ways that CRISPR is going to reshape humanity and the world.
Curing diseases from genetic errors
There are a number of genes we inherit which give us bum luck when it comes to disease. Already, CRISPR-based platforms have been developed which are either identifying the genes that lead to these diseases or are actively finding out how to remove them.
For example, scientists have been working on researching the genes responsible for the cellular process that leads to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Pharmaceutical companies are developing new CRISPR-based drugs that could one day treat heritable heart disease and other disorders.
There has been some headway from multiple sources in treating HIV. CRISPR has managed to remove the virus's DNA from a few humans' genomes. In 2018, this was mired in controversy as Chinese scientist He Jiankui reported in November that he'd used CRISPR to delete a gene called CCR5, which enables humans to contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The scientific community or at least the most vocal of the bunch, were in an uproar after this as they saw the genetic alteration as premature and unethical. They also worried about the unintended consequences.
Yet more level heads in the community and the ones that matter most like Harvard geneticist George Church, found the criticism to be overblown. In an interview with Science Insider he talked about how he felt an obligation to be balanced on the subject.
"People have said there's a moratorium on germline editing and I contributed to reports that called for that, but a moratorium is not a permanent ban forever… At some point, we have to say we've done hundreds of animal studies and we've done quite a few human embryo studies. It may be after the dust settles there's mosaicism and off targets that affect medical outcomes. It may never be zero."
In this regard, many Western countries are falling behind when it comes to our freedom of manipulating genetic code. In places such as China, scientists are given free reign to experiment on human embryos.
Understanding cancer completely in order to eliminate it
CRISPR has already been instrumental in modifying immune cells to make them more efficient at attacking and destroying cancer cells. The genetic alteration tool can also be used to evaluate how someone will react to new anti-cancer drugs, which could lead to a personalized genetic treatment plan.
We're also learning more about how cancer cells work together. Lou Staudt, M.D., Ph.D., of NCI's Center for Cancer Research said,
"We know that mutated genes form abnormal regulatory networks within the cells. Those regulatory networks can give you new targets for therapy… Comparing the behavior of cancer and normal cells with the same CRISPR-generated mutation can help researchers identify gene targets that cancer cells depend on for survival but that normal cells can do without."
Studies like this can help researchers better determine how cancer cells grow and propagate. Many scientists believe that understanding exactly how cancer cells develop and change is the best way to discover how to eliminate cancer completely. They dream of one day making all sorts of cancer akin to treating the common cold.
An evolution to the Transhuman
Many people are concerned about the idea of "designer babies" as humans will eventually opt for genetic enhancements. The least creative among us think that it'll create a kind of genetic discrimination. Rather than outright banning the technology – which will just bring it underground anyways and expedite a haves and haves not situation, we should encourage it.
CRISPR has the distinct capability to bring about new and diverse paths of human evolution. In the hands of great scientists and artists, we could become something else entirely. Something great and powerful.
Again we look to George Church, who has recently made a list of genes that could be modified to enhance human abilities. The list includes both the positive and potential negative effects which could bring us to the posthuman or transhuman age.
In an interview with Futurism, the professor talked about this database of genes and his goal to drive down the cost of such genetic resources.
"I felt that both ends of the phenotype spectrum should be useful. And the protective end might yield more powerful medicines useful for more people and hence less expensive."
"It also serves as a reminder," Church said regarding the database. "that not all mutations are negative or neutral."
Some of the choices from the "Transhumanist Wishlist" included genetic alterations that would aid in enhanced physiology and intellect. Such as the LRP5 gene which would give people extra-strong bones that don't break. Or MSTN that could produce larger and leaner muscles, while also curing muscular dystrophy. On the mind side, the GRIN2B gene could lead to greater memory and increased learning abilities.
Destroy dangerous pests and their pathogens
Mosquitos carry some of the worst forms of disease which wreck underdeveloped countries. This may one day be a thing of the past. Scientists have already created mosquitoes that are malaria resistant. These altered mosquitoes would pass on these same genes nearly 100 percent of the time to their offspring, even after mating with non-edited mosquitoes.
The method for change here is called transmission. CRISPR could directly attack infectious diseases through a number of different pests, be it rats, mosquitoes, ticks, or what have you. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside have developed genetically altered mosquitoes with a set of strange traits, resulting in wingless and yellow mosquitoes.
Their intention is to gain radical control over the traits that the mosquito will pass to its offspring. The end goal is to test a "gene drive" which would inhibit disease carrying properties. A gene drive would make sure that a genetic trait is never inherited again to a certain degree.
Interfering with mosquitos could have unintended consequences. While we don't know the extent of their ecological value, this could disrupt a fragile system we're not aware of.
Revive extinct species
Since 2017, Church and his team have been working on developing an embryo for an elephant mammoth hybrid, which essentially would bring the mammoth back to life. A number of labs around the world have been working on this problem. Japanese and Russian scientists were recently able to "reactive" 28,000 year old wooly mammoth cells.
"I was looking under the microscope at night while I was alone in the laboratory," 90-year-old Akira Iritani, a co-author on the new study who's spent years working toward resurrecting the woolly mammoth, told CNN. "I was so moved when I saw the cells stir. I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."
The rebirth of mammoths could actually be a boon to tackling climate change as well.
"The elephants that lived in the past — and elephants possibly in the future — knocked down trees and allowed the cold air to hit the ground and keep the cold in the winter, and they helped the grass grow and reflect the sunlight in the summer… Those two [factors] combined could result in a huge cooling of the soil and a rich ecosystem," said George Church at the 2018 Liberty Science Center Genius Gala.
Scientists hope to utilize CRISPR to combine genetic code from Asian elephants with the wooly mammoth. Samples of mammoth genes comes from frozen hairballs that were found in Siberia.
An undertaking like this could move the field forward in such a way that an unfathomable amount of ancient animals could be resurrected and modified in ways to temper our new world.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.