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Hacking humans

By Steve Korver Thursday, March 31, 2016 - 14:40
A chicken with dinosaur legs … HIV cure on the horizon … CRISPR: gene editing made easy … Is sex-for-reproduction passé? … These news flashes and more in this week’s Sex in the Press.

But will it still taste just like chicken?

What does ‘These scientists grew a chicken with dinosaur legs’ have to do with sex?

I’m glad you asked: EVERYTHING.

The science story of 2015 was the rise of CRISPR: a technology that makes gene editing almost as easy as cutting-and-pasting in a Word document.

Most recently, CRISPR was used to make a breakthrough step towards a cure for HIV/AIDS, which has killed over 25 million people since the 1980s.

“Researchers managed to remove HIV-1 DNA out of the human genome. And when they reintroduced HIV to the edited genomes, the cells were no longer infected with the virus,” according to ‘Did these scientists just cure HIV/AIDS?’.

As for the chicken with the dinosaur legs, it won’t be appearing on a BBQ anytime soon. The scientists could see while the chicken was still an embryo that the growth of its chicken-y leg had been inhibited by cutting out a certain gene with CRISPR – which then allowed the growth of the chicken’s ancestral dinosaur legs.

Wow.

Brave New World

“Birds and bees are just the beginning for this animal-altering technology,” according to ‘Welcome to CRISPR's gene-modified zoo’.

“With the arrival of CRISPR, they can alter the genes of a wide range of organisms with relative precision and ease. In the past two years alone, the prospect of gene-edited monkeys, mammoths, mosquitoes and more have made headlines as scientists attempt to put CRISPR to use for applications as varied as agriculture, drug production and bringing back lost species. CRISPR-modified animals are even being marketed for sale as pets.”

Bring on the ‘micro-pig’! Bring back the mammoth!

In short, CRISPR is a game-changer – plus it’s cheap and relatively easy. So of course, some people are concerned about the moral and ethical issues around the technology’s use.

For example, what happens if Islamic terrorists get their hands on the technology and decide to edit out all the infidels?

But seriously: we live in exciting times.

The future of procreation

“The majority of humans in developed countries will stop having sex to procreate within decades,” according to ‘Sex will be made unnecessary by “designer babies”, Stanford professor says’.

“In 20 to 40 years, when a couple wants a baby, he’ll provide sperm and she’ll provide a punch of skin,” says the obvious romantic Professor Greely.

And then the laboratory will do the rest: creating embryos and screening for the one with the least genetic faults and potential for serious diseases.

“The process could become the norm to the extent that women becoming pregnant through natural means could be considered irresponsible.” After all, who wants their child to have a painful and crippling disease?

However, with technologies such as CRISPR, such embryos can also be manipulated for such factors as height, hair colour, intelligence and behaviour – which again raises many moral and ethical questions.

Meanwhile, sex will become a purely pleasurable pursuit. Which is nice.

And with healthier offspring we’ll be able to spend more quality family time with each other – perhaps by throwing some dinosaur legs on the old BBQ.

Mmmm. Crispy.

 

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