Science around us: How should we exercise this ability

2022-06-17 0 By

China well-off net Exclusive features article | Yin Chuanhong now enhanced our ability to manipulate life unprecedented, future potential benefits of biotechnology will be huge and tangible and manifest, intangible and subtle threats are mixed together.As a society, we should think about how to exercise this capacity.”I firmly believe that the next science whose application falls into a moral dilemma is biology;If the problems of physics seem difficult, the problems associated with the development of biological knowledge will be enormous.”So declared Richard Feynman, an American physicist, a year before he won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1965.Rapid advances in biotechnology soon proved Feynman’s prediction.1966 The human genetic code and its function in protein synthesis are deciphered.In the early 1970s, scientists found a way to directly participate in gene activity: restriction endonuclease and DNA ligase were first discovered.The former can break DNA strands in a particular way at a particular nucleotide junction, while the latter can join two strands together.In 1972, the latter “combination” work by Paul Berg, an American biochemist, led to the first truly recombinant DNA molecule.This means that it is possible to combine and edit genes between different living organisms, and that the genetic traits of living organisms can be artificially modified.In the new century, this field of research has made even more amazing breakthroughs.A group of bacteria has evolved special enzymes that can recognize and remove foreign DNA inserted into the bacterial genome to protect against pathogenic viruses, scientists have discovered.In particular, a family of DNA-shearing enzymes called “Cas proteins” carry “guide RNA” molecules that recognize target DNA and accurately snip specific sequences of it.Scientists quickly developed the CRISPR genome-editing technology, which can quickly cut, paste, insert or remove gene sequences — effectively deleting those that cause defects or diseases — and replacing them with healthy, normal ones.Breakthroughs in genetics and life sciences have brought us both hope and dilemma, especially when the unexpected birth of a “genome edited baby” in November 2018 was met with widespread skepticism.Francoise Bellis, a Canadian ethicist, is typical in her view that it is possible for our cells to cause unexpected and unwanted modifications that can lead to one or more of the consequences of disease, disability or death.For ourselves and our world, when genetic knowledge is used to improve biological structures, our social norms and patterns of interaction also change, possibly undermining social well-being and social relationships.For example, we may seek to use genome editing technology to get closer to the “ideal” human, only to become more homogeneous and less tolerant of visible flaws.The particular worry is that “difference” will be seen as a “disability”, something to be eliminated.In that case, the most significant and lasting potential damage from this breakthrough technology may be social rather than biological.Today, our ability to manipulate life has never been greater, and future biotechnology will mix huge potential benefits with tangible and visible, intangible and subtle threats.Imagine if genetic modification became as easy as copying and pasting text files. Humans would get into more trouble and ethical dilemmas…How to stop the technology being used to create a deadly new virus?How are synthetic life forms or mutants regulated?How does the scientific community regulate itself?Those are the cautionary words of David Baltimore, the American biologist who won the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and who ends this essay with a note that, over the years, the once unthinkable has come close.Today, we feel we are on the verge of altering human genetics.At this point, we must confront the question: how do we as a society exercise this capacity?This article was published in the March 2022 issue of Xiaokang