To Boldly Go
by Audrey Hsu
1969 was a significant year in history. What first and foremost springs to my mind is an old ballad by Bryan Adams, rusted old Gap jeans, and the year my parents were born. But older readers might remember the year as the Beatles’ last performance, the United States withdrawal from the Vietnam war, and “...one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” Despite monumental advancements in humankind such as sequencing the human genome, and the creation of the internet, such a technological advancement has never rocked the world harder than the landing of the first man on the moon. Granted, the latter two events proved much more useful in the progression towards the future than the superficial show of American power the first man of the moon wrought. All over the world, dreams were inspired, little boys and girls in every nation imagined lands unexplored, and Richard Nixon was congratulated for reestablishing America’s dominance in the world.
What comes next? From what the world can see at this point, the next big technological advance is yet to happen. Problems such as disease, poverty, civil war, overpopulation etc. still plague the surfaces of every country. So, are scientists currently counting their fingers? Are there any current inventions teeming below the radar? To my knowledge, there are quite a few. In a rare lawsuit between colleges, Berkeley and MIT are going at it with no small amount of zest, zeal, and accusations over a billion dollar new technique called CRISPR. What does CRISPR stand for? Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Translating this into understable english, it would be simply put, a gene-editing tool. The implications of a gene-editing tool and what it could be put into use for is one for the philosophers. Suddenly the world seems conquerable by mankind…the universe could be! In a refined state, gene-editing could progress to eliminate the woes that humans regularly face, food shortages, diseases, aging, even bring back certain extinct species such as the woolly mammoth, easily. Cancer, HIV, Malaria, all of the towering undefeatables would be obsolete.
As with any decision, creation, invention, there never fails to be appear another side to the issue. As shown in the 1997 thrilling science fiction movie GATTACA featuring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, the disastrous side effects to gene-editing becomes evident. Editing genes to prevent sicknesses avoidable at birth is one thing, but selecting desirable superior traits in a human (not just babies), is another. Besides editing humans, the CRISPR gene-editing technique has already been tested on dogs and goats in China to create enhanced muscles and on mice to remove HIV virus cells, both cases being successful. While gene-editing is currently being used for the good, other possibilities such as enhancement of intelligence are controversies soon to be brought up when the technology is commonly used in the future. The term, “sounds like a science fiction movie”, could be scarily close to becoming a reality in the near future. The possibilities are truly frighteningly endless, and from a dramatic perspective, there would be nothing to stop human expansion into space and true domination. Gene-editing will truly remake the world.
Yet beyond all this, other problems may arise. Looking short term wise, in the words of researcher Carl June, gene editing may “trigger a Sputnik 2.0”. With all the advancement that only gene-editing can bring, we may ask, is there more beyond gene-editing? We may question what even the next step would be in the history of mankind. Traveling beyond the speed of light? Skyscrapers built and deconstructed with the push of a button? In these situations we can only look to the future and quote Star Trek, “To boldly go where no man has before.”