Friday, September 23, 2016

CRISPR: Sci-Fi becoming reality

The above video created by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell explains some recent advances in genetic engineering and some of the possible consequences.

The video focuses on the discovery of CRISPR which allows genetic engineering to be done much more easily and at a lower price.

If you're interested here's an article about CRISPR from a year ago in the New York Times

Questions to bring up:

If the price of genetic engineering goes down dramatically, in theory, the quantity demanded of genetic engineering should increase and as the quantity goes up it may become more acceptable in society which would increase demand making the quantity demanded go up further. Is this accurate? Are there other things to consider?

The narrator says that banning genetic engineering would have negative consequences since it would then be up to the black market to do with it what it will. Is regulation a good idea and how much if so?

What might be some of the externalities or secondary effects of more genetic engineering in our society?

If humans were to greatly increase their lifespan, would that be a negative externality on humans who are born in the future since population (and resource consumption) would increase even faster than it does currently?


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    1. Question 1: As the price of genetic engineering goes down, the quantity demanded of genetic engineering should increase. However, there is considerable resistance to genetic engineering in food and people. While genetic engineering might increase productivity or shelf life of a crop, it doesn't make economic sense if no one wants to eat it. I think that a desire to use more genetic engineering will entail better education of the public and consumers, and more research into adverse effects.

      Question 2: I think that banning genetic engineering, if based on a religious argument, means that the technology will be developed in more secular societies. A common argument against genetic engineering is the idea that we are "playing God" if we engage in this sort of research. This argument will not hold back other countries, and these countries will gain a significant technological edge over the U.S. if we continue our freeze in this exciting area of research. As far as the idea that the black market will provide the service, it's a fair concern. Demand is met by the black market if other avenues are not available. One only has to look at the massive amounts of money that circulates through the illicit drugs black market.

      To me, the more interesting question is just how much genetic engineering will be allowed in the future. Just how much freedom will we allow parents to customize their child? Where will we find ourselves drawing the limits, and what will happen to the children who cause us to draw the line?

      Question 3: I would be worried about the effect of reduced gene diversity in the human population. "A global monoculture of identical individuals is a beautiful sight to a pathogen." (1) What this means is that if we are identical in certain areas of our genetic code, and this segment of our genetic code is the area that a pathogen is taking advantage of, the fact that one person is being killed by a pathogen probably means that the overwhelmingly vast majority of people who are infected die. If you find this alarming, you should.

      Question 4: Increased human lifespan would absolutely be a negative externality to humans who survive into a resource scarce future. Already, simple resources like water are causing wars in some areas of the planet. (2) While I fully expect that genetic modifications will increase the productivity and productive lifespan of the modified humans, many scientists believe that the maximum carrying capacity of our planet is about 9 billion people, 10 if we all switch to a vegetarian diet. (3) We are at 7.125 billion people, and we are projected to hit 9 billion in 2050. Conflict over resources will only intensify as the global population grows. Increasing human lifespans will increase the load upon the planet.


  2. #1: I think your assumption that the increase in demand is correct especially if someone's family history shows a significant risk of a disease. However, I feel the average person would rather have a natural child if the risks were small or non-existent. A few things to consider are how people currently feel about GMO foods that are available in the marketplace and how belief would play a factor. Many people avoid GMO type foods because of the unknown of what it does to the human body or the idea that anything other than what nature gave us is unnatural. I also wonder the stance that religious organizations would take on this. Would they consider it a way of playing God ourselves? Would it be going against God's intended plan for that person? I believe there would be many individuals and organizations against the idea of a superhuman and the idea that, even though cheaper, it still would only allow a certain class of people that could afford the luxury. Would there be a concern for this creating an even larger gap between the rich and the middle class if the wealthy can avoid costly diseases or make the smartest children on a whim?

    #2: Regulation is the only way to prevent the possibility of this becoming a black market item. I think we see every day the effects that the "War on Drugs" has in this country and who truly benefits from it. How much regulation is the right amount? That is the toughest question to answer because you cannot legislate morality. However, I feel this would not be the type of industry you would want to self-regulate as it could lead to disastrous outcomes for the patients not understanding what they are signing up for or not knowing the risks.

    #3: My biggest fear when I hear terms "designer babies" used when speaking of genetic engineering is that we slowly lose what it means to be humans and being different from one another. I would hate to live in a world where we were all 'built' the same. Another concern we must have is not knowing until it is too late, what are they engineering that we don't realize. Imagine finding out 20, 30, or 40 years later a group of doctors (or the government) was putting in genes manipulating the way people think, vote, feel, etc. It would have a devastating effect on the population and something you probably could never reverse.

    #4: We already see the effects on the planet with people living longer and the population growing at record pace it is. There is no doubt that if we were to manipulate our genes to live longer, we would first have to develop a better way to produce foods and the energy needed. We currently see wars take place over resources like oil, and it wouldn't be far off if the same were to happen to food if we did not find ways to keep up with demand. In saying that, maybe these new genetically engineered humans could be modified to survive on fewer resources to make it work.

  3. Thank you for sharing this powerful, scary, prophetic, educated video. I was not aware how close we are to ama zing futures. Albeit potentially damaging and frightening. I truly hope that the curing of diseases is realized. Too many children die each year from incurable diseases. They deserve a chance.

  4. 1. i would agree with those who have already commented that there would be a continuing increase in quantity demanded, provided that there continues to be more benefits for genetically engineering than for the alternative. this was mentioned in the video, that as the technology continues, more people will use it, thus allowing more people to feel safer in using it, further increasing demand.

    2. banning would cause more problems than it is worth, simply because as was stated, it would go to the black market. I feel that the regulation that would be of most benefit would be related to full disclosure and transparency, thus allowing individuals to make their own choices

    3. I know that it is hard to tell at this point what the results would be because we simply have no idea what this would entail, like many things, time will tell.

    4.I think it is reasonable to assume that if we find more ways to extend our life span, we will also find more ways to expand our resources, even if that involves space expansion.

  5. 1. i think it is accurate but we have to look at the secondary effects as time goes by, we cant' just look at the short time success.
    2. I think regulation is a good idea because this will keep order and if it's regulated it hold people accountable rather than have it not regulated and have people neglecting it's use in the black market.
    3.i think some secondary effects will be our over dependence on genetics that will change or erase our past and our perception on perfection.
    4. i think it can be seen as both a positive and a negative, but as humans we are very adaptable to change and with new innovations there is always a means to account for its effects, and consumers as the judges always help the inventor's better the process of the new invention.

  6. 1. I think that if the price of genetic engineering goes down, the quantity demanded of genetic engineering should increase. When price goes down, supply shifts right. This is something that we talked about in class today! I think this is accurate. However, not everything is black and white. I think other things that they should consider are safety procedures and possible consequences of genetic engineering. People's skepticism may remain, some people may have an inelastic demand for taking part in this type of thing.

    2. Black markets are dangerous, most people know this. There are a lot of issues that are brought up when making things illegal. When things are illegal, the markets do not cease to exist. The transactions will still happen, but with less regulation. When something is illegal, the top heads make their own rules. Regulation maintains order, and is a good idea. I think the extent of regulation is subjective, but I personally would let people do most of what they wanted, within reason.

    3. Some of the secondary effects of more genetic engineering in our society are unimaginable. I personally cannot predict the effects it will have. Some things that come to mind, however, are allergic reactions or environmental impacts.

    4.We already have enough limited resources as it. Hopefully, as Caleb said, if we can think of a way to increase our lifespan, we can think of a way to increase our supply. But Earth has its limits. No matter how many resources we can come up with, we will always have limited time and space- and unless we inhibit another planet, this excess would be a negative externality on humans who were born in the future. Congestion and allocation of resources is already an issue. I would recommend fixing our current problems before thinking about lifespan extension.