When I first heard of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) I thought about human DNA as a series of Lego blocks from which some parts can be changed or rearranged in a number or ways. In fact, CRISPR means selecting and changing parts of DNA. This would be as if you could select the best genes which you would like an organism to be packed with. Either a new or old technique, we have to admit that modifying or redefining genes poses a challenge for humanity as a whole, and for other organisms are dominated by humankind. CRISPR is one step forward towards the major human aim to control and manage the Earth and its resources. Humanity has changed the natural landscape of its environment in all its forms: turned trees into homes, grasslands into streets, even opened mountains to build highways and connect places that would otherwise stay far from each other.
Genetic engineering means that humans are challenging their own nature and others. What would happen to a society that can construct or customize itself? It would potentially lose all of its randomness. We could choose which genes will carry on in our children, interfering in which traits they develop physically, but also in their character. This might be perceived as positive since we could end genetic diseases, physical conditions that people can be born with, but we would also be able to change other unnecessary items like those mentioned.
But the dilemma is: whether it is desirable that anyone could interfere in the development of others, even if it is the parent who is requesting this. The case is similar with abortions when they respond to a physical disorder in the foetus. The difference with genetic engineering is that it could avoid this by selecting the correct genes from the very beginning and doing modifications as wanted. Yet, even if these modifications are considered for the other’s wellbeing, the fact that this come from the decision of somebody else is questionable.
Another big challenge comes from the environment. Until now, we know that human modifications to the environment have serious consequences on our health. Air pollution is linked to respiratory infections and the emission of greenhouse gases has an effect on the sun rays that reach the earth, and this impacts our skins causing problems such as cancer. All these are effects in humans after modifying nature. But, how would the environment be impacted by those customised humans? This question has many difficult answers. One may come from the impact that super-humans, immune to many viruses and bacteria, may have in the environment; a worsening of the existing and serious problem of antibiotic immunity.
Another perspective can be taken from the effects in the natural life cycle. Typically described as being born, growing, reproducing and dying, it may be better described as being born, using land’s resources, growing, using resources again, reproducing, using more resources, and dying. Customized super humans would possibly never stop using resources, though they may never get out of them, thanks to these techniques.
This takes us to the question of over population. Genetic engineering means gene customizing, changing what does not work in our bodies, and possibly avoid death at least for a longer period of time. This will pose serious threats for the natural rate of lives, if deaths could be postponed indefinitely. Would this be sustainable for the Earth, the environment, humans, and even their families? Would more people create more jobs, food and resources to sustain themselves? Possibly no, but there is no danger of this because, possibly not many people would have access to this technique without paying a very, very high price. However, it is always better to think big, and to imagine—and be aware of—the many possible consequences that all this can have.