The extent to which genetic engineering has gone in recent decades is fascinating. Based on controlled lab experiments, scientists have found it possible to remove HIV from living animals, synthesize sustainable biofuels, and potentially cure Huntington's, a neurodegenerative disease that can be passed down to children and typically begins showing itself at age 30. All of these feats are breakthroughs that have been accomplished in lab trials in 2017, all due to one breakthrough in biological engineering: CRISPR-Cas9.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a system that has recently been used to modify the key to life: DNA. Scientists can alter the base sequences of the double helix and replace the nucleotides with ones that express the desired trait. Cas9 is a protein that binds to guide RNA, which has a matching base sequence to the DNA segment desired. The complex attaches to the DNA and cleaves that section off of the strand of DNA. Finally, a programmed strand of DNA replaces the removed segment to produce the desired trait. This procedure can be conducted on human embryos to alleviate a range of genotypes; from disorders to eye color, one can evolutionarily design their child.
The beauty of this scientific breakthrough stems primarily from the potential to remediate inheritable diseases and conditions. Sickle cell anemia is an affliction caused by the substitution of one base on the codon for the sixth amino acid for the protein hemoglobin. From the base sequence of GAG to GTG, the glutamic acid is substituted with valine, altering the entire structure of the protein and the red blood cell into a crescent shape. These cells are more likely to constrict blood flow as they entwine with blood vessels. Although this is an autosomal recessive condition, approximately 100,000 people are afflicted with this disease and 1 of 13 African American babies are born with the trait.
Huntington's Disease is another genetic disorder that afflicts 3-7 of every 100,000 people. Unlike sickle cell anemia, Huntington's is an autosomal dominant disorder; if you have it, you will pass down the disease to your children. Although the mechanism is still under research, the huntingtin protein is responsible for the neurodegenerative properties of the disease. In fact, people who have symptoms are expected only to live 10-15 years once they surface. CRISPR would provide those afflicted with the disease an opportunity to have children without the suffering the same fate, all while alleviating the progression of the disease in the carrier.
Although "designer DNA" has the practical implications of curing thousands of diseases and conditions, the extent to which CRISPR can modify genes may only be the privilege of the wealthy and insured. Labs routinely spend anywhere from 10,000 dollars to 19,100 dollars when compiling each modular kit. In truth, to produce enough for treatments or to modify isolated zygotes, hundreds of thousands can be dropped on one designer baby. Besides those afflicted with life-threatening conditions for children, a majority of optional edits will only be within reach of the wealthy. From height to hair color and muscle to a degree of intelligence, the wealthy would have the ability to redefine the competitive edge in society.
The largest concern with the wealthy being able to genetically design their children is the catalysis of eugenic ideologies in a society of designer babies. The God complexes that designer babies are likely to have would stem from the idea that they are genetically "pure." What people would define as "pure" is relative to the current sociopolitical context of countries with designer babies. Not only will there be ethnocentrism between nations who can design DNA and those who can't, but also cause the rise of eugenic groups who believe they are superior to other humans who can't afford the procedure. Considering the rise of the National Socialist movement and racial conflicts, the elite of these Neo Nazi parties are bound to manifest elitism and taint society with more discrimination.
To think that only 15 years ago the human genome was successfully sequenced and now we are capable of manipulating it to render genetic disease obsolete. The opportunity to cure diseases and genetically modify organisms to make them genetically optimal for humanity's needs truly makes this breakthrough a revolution. Albeit that social hierarchy and elitism concern the application of this treatment, the potential behind extending quality lives and ceasing genetic disorders radiates such a powerful light in the future of medicine.