In a 2015 TED talk, geneticist Jennifer Doudna presented a groundbreaking new technology for editing genes, called CRISPR-Cas9, which is a tool that allows scientists to make precise edits to DNA strands. *1 *2
CRISPR stands for “Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats” and is an RNA-guided gene-editing platform that makes use of a bacterially-derived protein (Cas9) and a synthetic guide RNA to introduce a double strand break at a specific location within the genome.*3
The CRISPR interference technique has enormous potential applications: it could lead to treatments for genetic diseases; altering the germline of humans, animals, and other organisms; and modifying the genes of food crops.
A recent video of THUNK, “CRISPR & Genetic Engineering” *4, describes it best:
Scientists claim to have tweaked CAS9 to be extremely accurate only touching the gene sequences that it's supposed to.
Now geneticists have a very precise not to mention extraordinarily cheap and easy to use tool which can locate, cut, deactivate, activate or rewrite any sequence of DNA that they want in a living cell.
We didn't start tinkering with the nuts and bolts of genetics until the 70’s and historically it's been a pretty exclusive thing you needed a specialized lab with hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment and a staff of highly trained scientists to make the most basic changes.
But was CRISPR that exclusivity proviso goes out the window, anyone can buy some CAS9 for a few hundred bucks, any halfway decent lab can use it to alter the DNA of anything.
We are talking about the level of access going from the smartest PhD’s at the most prestigious research institutions to home brewing in your garage.
Now that anyone who knows the molecular biology can engineer any genome that they like. Now that we can cheaply easily and accurately edit any DNA we care about including human DNA what's next?
We can eliminate many modern genetic diseases from the next generation of people if we want to.”
... “It would be expensive but it's certainly within our reach.”
“We might be able to wipe out entire species on a whim ...”
“We might be able to do that — to any species — that we've decided we'd rather not deal with anymore ...”
“... with this update to CRISPER all of these things just have become immediately relevant. This is not some future flung thing; this is a few months from now.”
While everyone is singing cheerfully and celebrates the wonderful things we will get, it seems no one is considering the other side. It seems that side has been deliberately ignored, but shoving our heads into the sand will not make scary things go away.
Let me shortly digress: a long ago, I watched a speech by Dr. Tom Bearden, inventor of the MEG device (allegedly, an over-unity device). In that video, he said the following: *5
What does the technology that goes on in the regular world today, what does it really trying to do?
Science... Basically it's trying to develop tools that are more and more powerful, the smaller and smaller, a cheaper and cheaper and usually easier to build.
If you extend that to the limit... Where does that go? Where does that lead you?
It leads you to this situation: The tools become so powerful that if they're used as weapons they could destroy the whole Earth, they become so small that one person my hold one of these, that would destroy the Earth, in both hands. It’ be that small.
They become cheap enough that maybe would cost only three thousand dollars in where great number citizens could readily afford that, instead of buying a new car... they buy 3 or 4 these. And, it becomes simple enough that there are several hundred thousand technicians properly trained “with the little change of mind and all”, can in fact build such devices. We are beginning to approach that area, beginning to arrive at that area now. We can make real progress, in resolving or lowering or decreasing man's inhumanity to his fellow man and the great hostility, weaponry and so forth in the world today. And, unless we do that we simply will not survive our own technology. The power of our tools will be turned against us by other people who are inhumane and we will destroy each other.
Although I watched the video for the sake of amusement, and although I do not care much for alien, perpetual-motion things, I remembered the above statement.
The resemblance is strikingly similar:
- “anyone can buy some for a few hundred bucks”
- “brewing in your garage”
- “wipe out entire species”
- “very precise, extraordinarily cheap, and easy”
Literally, CRISPR-CAS9 can be bought for few hundred dollars, *6 you can fiddle and experiment with it in your own garage-lab, and maybe it cannot destroy the Earth, but it is capable of destroying species. If we can destroy species of mosquitos — as we have done successfully in Brazil’s test run — how difficult would it be to destroy other species — for instance, human species?
In a previous article, I mentioned that there are 70 million people that can be considered psychopaths. Also, in my post “The worst and the best invention at the same time,” I wrote how ironic it is that the smartest people in the world gave the most dangerous weapon in the world to the people with the least integrity, but now I would like you to consider the next scenario that will help you to realise how fragile our entire species really is.
Forget about psychopaths (although they are big population, which makes them really difficult to forget), forget about indoctrinations, and forget about religious fanatics, and let’s consider one older phenomenon: revenge.
What if, out of all the countries against whom we waged war, out of all the countries where we brought misery and destruction, only one grieving man or women decides to seek revenge. What if, not in the usual, Hollywood way we tend to imagine — not by becoming a human bomb, or targeting our president — but by doing something more clever, calculated, and cold.
What if that person’s pain of losing his/her family because of drone bombings was so huge that he/she starts thinking that people are evil and that people are to be blamed for his/her loss? And, when I say this, I mean not just any particular people, but all people.
So, what if he/she convinced himself/herself that all people are evil and that they should be removed from the face of the Earth? What if that person, instead doing something hot-headed and impulsive, decides to act in a cold and calculated way? What if he/she starts believing that there is no point to our existence, that everything is just suffering, and that best way forward would be to remove that suffering once for all?
What if he/she decides to tweak, just a little bit, an existing virus like Ebola — the deadliest virus that ever existed on Earth?
This is not science-fiction; this is a possible scenario. Yes, I know it looks like a scenario from the movie “12 Monkeys.” The only difference is that, 20 years ago, that was a fantasy, science-fiction, an impossible thing, but now...
In biohazard movies, the virus usually escapes from some top secret military facility, where they are trying to develop a doomsday weapon, and, by default, the virus escapes because of human error. In reality, regardless of how little we may think about military facilities, those institutions have protocols and security mechanisms, in order to prevent similar events, and, from time to time, disasters can still happen. Now think: what kind of security mechanism does a garage lab have? Even if the person does not have malicious intentions, what are the chances of things going sideways and turning into a biohazard event?
The examples of the Cane Toad in Australia *7 and the Caulerpa Taxifolia *8 seaweed that was initially released from Jacques Cousteau's Oceanographic Museum are best examples of how damaging the introduction of a new species into an already-formed ecosystem can be — especially when that species does not have natural enemies. Imagine what genetically modified organisms can do.
Fiddling with viruses is not so difficult. Viruses are very short in comparison to any other being; they consist of only 20,000 DNA base pairs, but, again, they can kill much larger living things.
Now, ask yourself: how difficult would it be to change a computer program that is very short, even for a beginner?
No, it is not as easy as I am presenting it; you have to have basic knowledge. You cannot just mix things and expect something to happen randomly, like in a cartoon. There are some rules, like there are in computer programming, but, if anyone can learn to read and write, or code, I am absolutely positive they can learn rules of DNA rewriting.
CRISPER-CAS9 in the hands of a mad person is more dangerous than all human weapons combined.
Even worse, this technology is the equivalent of putting an atomic bomb into the hands of any person with an IQ greater than 110, which is every fourth person in the world. All that is needed to end the human race is one person — only one of person that will flip — only one out of the 1.75 billion people.
Taking this into perspective, along with the Fermi paradox (the concept of great filters and why there are no more alien species in the universe), it becomes more understandable. The odds are not on our side.
Am I trying to scare you with this? Yes I am!
And I hope I have succeed; I hope this story will urge you to think.
When people feel safe, they do not think. When they do not think, they believe in terrible concepts, like thinking that wars and violence are a solution. They tend to think that we can win the next big war in the 21st century. For someone to think that we can win a war, in this day and age, he or she must be either stupid or have spent the last 50 years under a rock. Peace and non-violence are not easy things to live by; they require action, dedication, and hard work.
When we stop thinking about problems, we stop caring, and we leave decisions to our governments, expecting them to know all the answers. They do not know all the answers. Most of the time, governments act either from the self-interest of a few or from the perspective of money and where it can take them. We are the ones who need to learn how to regulate them.
If the next big war happens, we will all die. Regardless of being rich or poor, regardless of being young or old, the next war, if we allow it to happen, will be the game ender. Even if that war does not happen, keep in mind that every little war can provoke that one person. Just one person, with enough brains and an uncanny mind to end us all — that is all it takes.
It is important to realise how fragile we are and try to be as good as possible to one another.
Enjoy life, and make life easier for other people, so they can enjoy it, too.
Share this story with other people, make them think, and, please, leave comments. Tell me what you think.
Notes & References:
1. We can now edit our DNA. But let's do it wiselyhttps://www.ted.com/talks/jennifer_doudna_we_can_now_edit_our_dna_but_let_s_do_it_wisely?language=en
2. Jennifer Doudna (UC Berkeley / HHMI): Genome Engineering with CRISPR-Cas9https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuAxDVBt7kQ