Jennifer Doudna and Charpentier Emmanual became the first to use the CRISPR process to genetically modify living organisms in 2012. The tool would allow scientists to alter the genetic composition of DNA with extraordinary precision. This gave rise to a larger industry and world of gene editing.
Doudna described the following years after the tool’s introduction. One story she points out often is a dream she had. In the dream, her colleague asked if she could teach someone to use the technique. She followed the stranger into a room, where they found Adolf Hitler wearing a pig face. From this dream, she anticipated that there would be criticism from the public as regards the ethical nature of this technique, and this may prevent the research from developing.
She decided to organize a workshop among experts in relevant fields, ethicists and scientists, and they published a scientific paper in 2015. The paper urged a global summit on the ethics of this method, as well as a pause on research. She later that year, gave a TED talk, calling for an international conversation on the same, and she even wrote a book, A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution. She’s been active in expanding CRISPR and gene editing roles in society—from business to books.
In the book, she talks about a wide range of CRISPR method application in science, animals, and medicine.
In medicine, scientists are conducting trials on a process called somatic gene-editing to treat diseases caused by single mutated genes, namely sickle cell, Huntington’s and cystic fibrosis disease. The process of editing the affected cells either outside or inside the body would not result in the corrections being passed on to the offspring. But the main debate is regarding germline gene editing, where these traits will be passed on to the offspring leading to an entirely new race of genetically modified humans.
A recent survey from the public show a lot of public reservation, and most participants think that scientists should openly discuss these issues first before performing these practice.
Gene Editing Within A Cynical Public
The main participants in this debate have mainly been scientists and the elite. That is why it’s not surprising when results conducted by Pew research center revealed that 42% of participants have heard nothing about the issues, while only 48% have heard a little.
Moreover, only 28% considered gene-editing to be morally acceptable, compared to 30% who disagreed and 40% were not sure. The first gene edited baby and the subsequent press from that surely shaped some public perception.
According to Bioethicist, the opposition among religious and non-religious people can be explained by something called the “Yuck Factor”, which describes a “Visceral repugnance” and “emotional opposition”, that is felt in public when they first hear about this issue.
This Yuck factor originated from deep Christian and Kantian teachings that have formed the backbone of Western culture. According to these traditions, the human body holds a higher moral place compared to other organisms in the world, thus should be treated with sacred respect.
.Scientists should be ready to engage the public on all levels of this new scientific practice, and this is the main goal of Jennifer Doudna. She states that scientists should engage the public directly, and apply the principle of “discussion without dictation”, as the issue of gene-editing has far-reaching consequences on them.