I just read Wired’s America Needs To Figure Out The Ethics of Gene Editing Now, by Nick Stockton.
We are naïve to think that a moratorium would work because there are countries out there who are determined to supersede the US. Therefore, the focus should not be to halt research but to make it safer – for everyone, not just us. Recall how AIDS became a major health consideration in the US. Therefore, making this research safer for everyone makes it safer for us, too.
According to this Wired article, there are two scientific perspectives on this, need for open discussion (these include, George Q. Daley, R. Alta Charo, Steven Martin, Jennifer Doudna, Hank Greely, Mike Botchan) and temporary moratorium of “baby making” (Edward Lanphier, R. Alta Charo, Steven Martin).
In my opinion it is not correct to restrict scientists’ research to “safe” research but we have to weigh that against the benefits of progress. Learning, experimentation and research are all part of the process of making progress. “Safety” is something that we discover with hindsight – airplanes as weapons came to our national consciousness with 9/11. And for Christians who believe this is wrong, see Genesis 1:26.
What this article shows is that we don’t know enough about genes, gene splicing, and germline editing. Proof of this lies in answering this question I had asked at the 2013 100 Year Starship Study held in Houston, TX. What would happen if we took the entire nucleus/DNA of a simple animal and placed inside a plant cell, and do the reverse, a plant nucleus/DNA into an animal cell. Would the animal nucleus still develop into an animal, and would the plant nucleus still develop into a plant?
The findings will give us many answers. Are specific enzymes/proteins required per type of life form? Is there a universal information transference mechanism between nucleus and organelles for both animal and plant cells? Or are each life form’s mechanism different? If so how did evolution come up with two different mechanisms, and are there other mechanisms? Can the nucleus change the proteins within the cells to match its requirements? Can an animal (plant) nucleus convert the cell to an animal (plant) cell? Did the cell evolve independently of the nucleus? . . . .
Answer is we don’t know, because we don’t know enough of how information is transmitted from the nucleus to the cell organelles, as we are still experimenting with bits and pieces of DNA. That is, even though our research is very advanced our considerations are very primitive.
I suspect that if we change our perspective, from researching bits of DNA, to forming a 3-layer model (DNA, gene & information), we can progress faster. This crypto-info model consists of a bottom foundational layer, the DNA; the middle recording layer, genes, and the top information layer. The foundational layer is the physical implementation consisting of adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine bases, and a couple of other things. The recording layer is the store of select information, and the information layer has what, how, when to do it, and maybe more.
Our current research is based on the middle layer, splicing and moving around recording units or genes. Why are these recording units or genes combined together as strands and not individually present in the nucleus? The answer would suggest that there is information in the positional arrangement of these genes. Interpolating would suggest that the positional arrangement of the bases within a gene is how gene specific information is stored. So we understand how information is stored in the DNA. We don’t, however, understand what this information is. It is encrypted, therefore the term crypto-info. What is this information and how is it structured? An examination of the smallest genes would be a start to understanding this. The earlier animal-plant question raises another, is this coded information context-sensitive?
Of course once we get a working crypto-info model we will probably discover many more things about the DNA, its information, and its storage transference mechanisms. This crypto-info model raises another question, since silicon is the closest chemical to carbon, could a silicon-based DNA be constructed? What about other elements?
Coming back to the original questions about open discussions and temporary moratoriums, the crypto-info model shows that to address these issues we need to lay down guidelines of HOW to do DNA related research as opposed to WHAT DNA research we could do.