The first instance where gene editing is to be permitted is where the cells are guided to alter the genetic effects in somatic cells. According to Baltimore, Baylis, Berg, Daley, Doudna, Lander, and Winnacker (2015), these are cells that cannot be transmitted from one generation to another. Examples involve editing of sickle cell anemia genes in blood cells or editing to enhance the ability of immune cells to target cancer. In particular, the key priority is to prevent modifying the gene makeup of persons receiving modified genes (Baltimore et al., 2015; Doudna, 2015). Practice should also only be permitted for cells whose genomes cannot be shared over generations. Genome editing should also be allowed when the process is directed to make genetic changes in gametes that will be carried by all the cells of the child and are passed to the next generation as part of the human gene pool. Some of the genes include those meant to prevent transmission of severe inherited diseases and those intended to improve human capabilities (Baltimore et al., 2015; Regalado, 2016). For example, the editing can be done to introduce new beneficial genes.
Apart from its use in human gene editing, CRISPR can also be used to edit crop genes and improve their pest resistance. Andolfo, Iovieno, Frusciante, and Ercolano (2016) suggest gene editing to alter the “effector-target sequence to avoid effector-target molecular interaction and modify effector-target promoters”. This will improve the expression of target genes relevant for the resistance process. Pest resistance crops will improve yield stability.
Although gene editing is meant to improve human health among other uses such as prevention of crop pests, it might have some unintended consequences. Once introduced, the edited genes will not be changed, thus may be transmitted to the future generations. This might have adverse impacts such as an increase in social inequalities or be used forcibly in the future. In this regard, the process should follow scientifically set standards.
Andolfo, G., Iovieno, P., Frusciante, L., & Ercolano, M. R. (2016). Genome-editing technologies for enhancing plant disease resistance. Frontiers in Plant Science, 7 (1813), 1–8.
Baltimore, D., Baylis, F., Berg, P., Daley, G.Q., Doudna, J.A., Lander, E.S., & Winnacker, E. (2015). On human gene editing: International summit statement. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.
Doudna, J. (2015). Genome-editing revolution: My whirlwind year with CRISPR. Nature, 528, 469–471.
Regalado, A. (2016, June 16). First human test of CRISPR proposed. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601717/first-human-test-of-crispr-proposed/