CRISPR Technologies

The rise of new technologies has also led to considerable concern over the use of CRISPR techniques.

CRISPR is the acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and refers to regularly repeated bits of virus DNA that become part of the DNA of humans and other organisms. When this inclusion happens, an organism can recognize the virus DNA as invasive and mobilize its immune system against it. This same CRISPR response is now being used by scientists to alter genes.

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The ability to edit genes raises numerous ethical issues. First, although it has not yet occurred and is illegal in some nations, scientists could use CRISPR with relative ease to alter the genes in human eggs or sperm. Once this is done, the eggs or sperm could be used to conceive a baby, whose altered genes would be passed on to future generations. The technique could be used to eliminate devastating diseases caused by single genes—or to change eye color. It could reduce human suffering—and could increase human inequality because some populations will be far more likely to have access to the technology than others.