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November 30, 2018


"As George Church, a geneticist at Harvard University, puts it, “the genie is already out of the bottle.” It needs to be put back."

I thought the whole point of the expression was to describe something that couldn't be reversed.

As for off-target effects...

"Q: What about concerns that CRISPR will make unintended edits in the genome, so-called off-target effects?

"A: I’m not saying they’ll never be an off-target problem. But let’s be quantitative before we start being accusatory. It might be detectable but not clinical. There’s no evidence of off-target causing problems in animals or cells. We have pigs that have dozens of CRISPR mutations and a mouse strain that has 40 CRISPR sites going off constantly and there are off-target effects in these animals, but we have no evidence of negative consequences."
‘I feel an obligation to be balanced.’ Noted biologist comes to defense of gene editing babies

I've seen a tweet from a real human geneticist who has looked at the sequence and thinks that the induced mutation is, indeed, off-target.

I'm a pessimist this morning -- this is a genie that's not going back in the bottle.

You can buy DIY CRISPR kits to do pre-determined things at home -- eg, modify a bacterium to allow it to live on a medium that is normally fatal. (Available at Amazon, $170.) There's a boatload of potentially valuable genetic editing possibilities already -- bacteria that secrete desired compounds, plants that are heat- or drought-resistant -- so the basic tech is going to stay around. And it seems inevitable that they'll move up the evolutionary chain -- disease-resistant hogs, smarter dogs, etc. Once it's simple and cheap enough, there will be places in the world where experiments on humans will be, if not outright allowed, able to fly under the radar.

This sort of stuff is going to be trivial, and trivially easy to hide, compared to weapons-grade plutonium or uranium.

This sort of stuff is going to be trivial, and trivially easy to hide, compared to weapons-grade plutonium or uranium.

Someday, perhaps someday soon, we will look back with longing at the time when we only worried about (relatively) easily-detected threats like dirty nuclear weapons. Enhancing the speed with which we can identify and counter bioweapons would seem to a critical defense task. Wonder if the current set of science skeptics in charge are willing to have any part of such a thing.

There may come a time when at a high level of abstraction, a designer may be able to design a wholly new organism or reverse engineer an existing organism. Then the software would generate the DNA code needed to implement the specifications. Much like computer hardware and software is now designed.

i suspect we'd all be dead before such a thin ever shipped because something lethal will be produced and will escape during the DNA compiler's beta testing.

On at least one occasion, Charlie Stross asked the commenters at his blog to suggest possibilities for the Great Filter*. This was basically my candidate: engineering species-destroying pathogens, either accidentally or on purpose, was a much easier technical problem than achieving interstellar flight.

* The Great Filter is an answer to the Fermi paradox.

The thing that bothers me about the gene-modified babies is this: Supposedly the experimenter has changed their heritable DNA so that they are immune to HIV. How will this be verified? An attempt would have to be made to infect them, and how can this be done, ethically? What if the immunity is not there? How can it be ethical to try to infect a child with a terrible disease, even to verify that she is immune?

You'd try to infect their CD4 cells in vitro.

sounds like a hoax to me.

the whole start-with-HIV thing sounds like a way to grab headlines. an actual researcher would try something small.

The Atlantic has a good article on the case:

While ethically indefensible, it is perhaps less consequentialist than mucking around with pathogenic bacteria.

Special thanks to Michael Cain for that Amazon CRISPR link.

My boss just used it in a company webcast -- she's gotten big on the intersection of technology and policy. And not just Information Technology, even though that is the company focus.

So, how long will it be before you can get kits from Amazon to change your skin/eye/hair color?

"My Genetk Design Kits arrived in a box bearing a stylized version of Yggdrasil, the world tree in Norse mythology, with a twist of the DNA double-helix as part of its trunk. On the sides of the box, Odin's ravens, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory), exchange a strand of DNA. Odin had, in fact, sent me the box, and by Odin, I mean The ODIN—The Open Discovery Institute, a company that aims to make do-it-yourself genome editing easy. I was ready to start genetically editing bacteria at home."
Adventures in Home Biohacking with CRISPR: I made antibiotic-resistant E. coli in my kitchen, and the world didn't end.

So, how long will it be before you can get kits from Amazon to change your skin/eye/hair color?

Changing your own, existing, characteristics is a far bigger problem than just changing them in a single cell which will (potentially) grow up to be a person. For one thing, there's the challenge of getting uptake in all the cells. For another, I'm not sure whether you can change something which has already happened like that. But I guess we will find out in the not enormously distant future.

I made antibiotic-resistant E. coli in my kitchen, and the world didn't end.

of course that link went to 'reason'

The Fermi Paradox graphically demonstrated to a DNA tinkerer near us in 3, 2, 1...

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