I love studying this stuff and I think it is important to human survival. For me it is easy and natural, but really, for most people it is far less clear. So I have occasionally gotten into discussions by email or forum where someone asked my to explain. It is a great opportunity for me to develop my descriptions and to find out what others have trouble understanding abut the topic. I usually have good luck explaining what they want to know. So here is one of those discussions. Maybe it will clarify things for you as well.
The original question was:
What is the biggest mistake being made right now in the field of genetic engineering? Aug 19, 2018
My original answer is as follows, but really, it was a discussion that followed that I think explained some very basic things.
--Mike Breeden-- I would say using CRISPR on humans. CRISPR is going to make some biotech companies truck loads of money, but there are a few reasons it’s a questionable strategy for humans. Untargeted effects. The research is not clear yet, but right now it looks like other genes than the targeted on are effected. Maybe this can be overcome, maybe not. Economics. To use CRISPR, you are going to do a genetic analysis of the genes in a “zygote” or potential zygotes (X times). You are then going to make your CRISPR molecule (or already made it). You then do the CRISPR process. You then repeat your genetic analysis to see if the result was what you wanted. Then bring the zygote to term. Wouldn’t it usually be easier to just start with a number of zygotes and select one with the combination you want? You only have to do the first and last step then. Another reason is that humanity has a great genetic wealth. I recommend we use that potential first before the more risky CRISPR strategy. If you are talking new traits rather than just new genes, well, no one has ever told me what to select for. Accumulate good genes rather than trying to make them. It would be easier and less risky. My book, Genetics For A New Human Ecology, explains that humans have to replace the Natural Selection that has been removed as what we call Human Progress. We need a general effect. CRISPR is a finely targeted effect and will not be enough. In the garden that is the human genome, CRISPR is like a weeder when what is needed is an herbicide.Shirley Day Are you advocating a kind of Eugenics? If so, what are the things you would weed out? What about the feelings of people who have genes which you consider as weeds?Mike Breeden Shirley, in my book, Genetics For A New Human Ecology (Transition Book 1), I point out that older parents, smaller families, medicine and a few other things have changed the balance between the mutation rate and Natural Selection. This is going to lead to a “Genetic Load” (as it is called in biology) of broken genes. The primary idea is to select against those broken genes. Most “bad” genes have already been removed by nature, but every generation there are new broken genes called “de novo mutations” (meaning fresh). There are also genes like the BROKA gene that leads to cancer or the gene for Sickle Cell. Using Artificial selection to replace the Natural Selection we have removed (calling it Human Progress), we can make sure that the children do not inherit these broken or “bad” genes. The parents will have healthy children, the essence of morality That is the first level of Artificial Selection as I describe it. It will avoid a disaster that we have already set in motion. The second and third levels insure that our children will inherit the best genetic potentials of both parents, something that the blunt brutal tool of nature, Natural Selection, does not guarantee. That will increase the genetic wealth of humanity and allow us to better adapt to the future that is rushing upon us. Per your comment below, many diseases are genetic based. If you have qualms about this, ask a person with a family history of genetic weakness if they would use artificial selection to insure that their children no longer carried the genetic curse.Shirley Day I applaud the idea of genetic disease being overcome but I wonder how this can be done. Known genetic defects (Downs syndrome or fragile X for example) will always be present as they are due to random faults in meiosis or chemical imbalance and occur accidentally. If you imply that older parents are more likely to have trisomy present in meiotic division and that this can increase the numbers of people with Downs syndrome or that smaller families will not allow the larger numbers that would select out ill offspring - this is the stuff of eugenics. Neither situation has any bearing on the health or fitness of the species. Sickle cell is a fault in the gene, not a different gene, and is a mistake that occurs accidentally. Yes, you can inherit this condition but it is not going to increase and weaken the species if such people have medical treatment. De novo mutations are just isolated accidental faults because nothing is perfect. How would you 'select' against such faults?Mike Breeden Shirley, you seem to be ignoring what Artificial selection is as described in the first comment I made. Eugenics as it has been practiced was basically telling someone ‘You re genetically inferior, you cannot have children” - usually either by sterilization or execution in some cases (NAZIs). THis has pretty much been judged as immoral. The idea of artificial selection is to fertilize a number of eggs and select against the ones with genetic problems before implantation. This has totally different moral implications. It still allows a person to have children, but not only that, they will be healthy children. Downs Syndrome, Sickle Cell, de novo mutations can all be removed this way. While there is some appropriate moral qualms about abortion and certainly about eugenics as it has been practiced, there seems to be very limited moral objection to the treatment of fertilized eggs ”in a petri dish”. Besides, as I have explained, we have already made changes, with no moral consideration of the consequences, that requires us to replace the action of Natural Selection if we want to be more than animals. Artificial Selection seems the most economical and ethical route. Besides the necessity of doing something in order to survive the problem we face, the potential benefits would also be enormous. I also see no other feasible path, though in my book I mention some like having big families (not feasible due to resource issues). No alternatives seemed possible. Do you see any alternatives perhaps?Shirley Day I think your attention to the removal of diseased embryos is good and helps people to have healthy children. Our species is 'complete' as far as evolution is concerned (as are all other extant species) because we all start our life-cycles from the same human ovum's 23 chromosomes and our offspring are always the same (the same is true of all other species - a cat will always give birth to a cat). Natural selection is not working now and artificial selection can only help in removing diseased embryos. There can be no selection for changing the species in any way.Mike Breeden I would rather the selection was done at the gastrula stage when cells start to slough off which might be before the embryo stage which is generally considered to be second to the eighth week after fertilization. Hard to say… >>Natural selection is not working now and artificial selection can only help in removing diseased embryos. There can be no selection for changing the species in any way. This is quite incorrect. If individuals do not reproduce, that constitutes Natural Selection. It’s just different than it has been in the past. A major new Natural Selection factor will be people just choosing not to have children. It is why I focus so much on survival instinct and strategy because in the future it will be so important that people choose to have children. We don’t have a huge instinct for it, though we do have a huge instinct to have sex which used to always lead to having children. Now it is a choice. Huge change. As for changing the species in any way, evolution is defined as a change in gene frequency. Artificial selection would presumably be used to cause a far greater change in gene frequency in the same amount of time than the blunt stupid instrument of nature that is Natural Selection possibly could. We can not only reduce the frequency of “bad” genes, though there are not a lot of those that nature hasn’t gotten rid of, but also we could greatly increase the frequency of the “good” genes for health, beauty and brains. That is before even considering hybridization. Really, if you have any interest in this, I suggest you read my book Genetics For A New Human Ecology that covers this all in detail far more than I can here… It’s cheap. Genetics For A New Human Ecology (Transition Book 1), Michael Breeden - Amazon.comShirley Day Ok. I will look out for your book, but who gets to judge what is 'beauty'?Mike Breeden Nature did long ago… One form is the appearance of fertility though there is sort of another form… though that leads to a really neat philosophical questions… but you’ll have to wait for that answer in the next book.Shirley Day Ok, thanks for your interesting correspondence.Mike Breeden I’m glad you found it interesting. It also lets me know what things people might not be clear on