The CRISPR revolution seems to be here, is this the coming of eugenics?

You will find a Qanta primer here.  Here is an excerpt:

In the same month, separate teams of scientists at Harvard University and the Broad Institute reported similar success with the gene-editing tool. A scientific stampede commenced, and in just the past two years, researchers have performed hundreds of experiments on CRISPR. Their results hint that the technique may fundamentally change both medicine and agriculture.

Some scientists have repaired defective DNA in mice, for example, curing them of genetic disorders. Plant scientists have used CRISPR to edit genes in crops, raising hopes that they can engineer a better food supply. Some researchers are trying to rewrite the genomes of elephants, with the ultimate goal of re-creating a woolly mammoth. Writing last year in the journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, Motoko Araki and Tetsuya Ishii of Hokkaido University in Japan predicted that doctors will be able to use CRISPR to alter the genes of human embryos “in the immediate future.”

Thanks to the speed of CRISPR research, the accolades have come quickly. Last year MIT Technology Review called CRISPR “the biggest biotech discovery of the century.” The Breakthrough Prize is just one of several prominent awards Doudna has won in recent months for her work on CRISPR; National Public Radio recently reported whispers of a possible Nobel in her future.

Even the pharmaceutical industry, which is often slow to embrace new scientific advances, is rushing to get in on the act. New companies developing CRISPR-based medicine are opening their doors. In January, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis announced that it would be using Doudna’s CRISPR technology for its research into cancer treatments. It plans to edit the genes of immune cells so that they will attack tumors.

How immediately will this come for ordinary use?  Here is the big package of articles from Science.  The Chinese already have done it with monkeys.

Here are my earlier remarks on eugenics.  Here is a group of scientists calling for a moratorium on the technique, at least until rules can be established.  Here are further articles on CRISPR.  There are further comments here.

I believe the implications of all this — and its nearness to actual realization — have not yet hit either economics or the world of ideas more generally.  This is probably big, big news.

Comments

AFAIK, all the single-gene changes that are worth doing based on what we know about genes would repair certain defects or risk factors. That is a very positive thing for families that carry such genes, but it doesn't strike me as revolutionary. Traits like height are affected by thousands of genes. Heritable components of cognitive and personality traits are almost certainly just as spread out across the genome. The editing mechanics might be online soon, but the hard work of learning of what's worth editing has barely begun. In all the many genes that affect traits, there are clearly synergies and cancellings, and our present data mining techniques are simply not able to diagnose these.

What if there's a clock for aging? If humans could live as long as the giant tortoise, that would be cool for me. I don't know if I want you to live that long. Maybe this needs to be rationed to only the most deserving people. Like me.

Something drives the age-related decline in immune function and the increase in risk for atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer's DIsease. At least for atherosclerosis and T2DM, a strong case can be made that it is the age-related decline in tetrahydrobiopterin. What drives that? GTPCH1 activity, which is the enzyme which performs the rate-limiting step in tetrahydrobiopterin synthesis. What drives GTPCH1 activity? Ah, that is a complex question indeed. I don't know all of the answer, but I believe if we follow this thread back we will find the ultimate driver for aging. And when we find it, we can change it.

I would be very surprised if there was such a thing as "the ultimate driver for aging" - but yes, it would be great. Even removing some risk factors for certain maladies related to aging would be great. And maybe now, more energy can go into the search, because we have justified confidence that once we find it, the tech to change it will already be up and running.

No, there is not. Recent research has shown that there are essentially no aging genes. Aging is not a genetic process. It is a combination of things including mitochondrial DNA damage (but not nuclear DNA damage), lysosomal agregate accumulation, and several other damage mechanism. CRISPR, which is a germ-line nuclear DNA modification technique, is unlikely to be useful against aging. The therapies that will work against aging are known as the SENS therapies.

There is a huge middle ground between addressing single gene defects like Tay Sachs and completely mapping out the super complex genetics of cognitive traits and personality. Regular humans have tons of less serious mistakes and junk DNA that can be cleaned up. If we can improve mouse cognition by giving them extra copies of certain genes, the same type of thing may translate to humans.

Cochran calls it "proofreading" the genome. We all have some deleterious mutations that don't rise to the level of being called a genetic disease, but we'd still be better off without them. Maybe, say, Tom Brady has fewer of them than you or me.

"Spellchecker" is my analogy.

I think such restrictions are based upon scare mongering. While it is amazing that CRISPR works at all, we just don't have enough knowledge yet to construct much that is useful. Perhaps after sequencing millions of humans we'll start to understand the language, it's library, and calling conventions but we aren't even close today.

More importantly, when/if we actually understand the programming language, and if we can use that to affect beneficial traits (eg: intelligence), then no regulation in the world is going to stop people from using it.

So, in general to the blowhards proposing regulation: NO.

Catholic Church will surely oppose it.

That's it's job.

apols for the feral apostrophe.

What a shame that the editing technology that now exists for genes cannot be extended to blog posts.

well played.

The ability to edit blog posts would surely be big, big news.

The Church may denounce this at first, but they will just change their mind in a few years anyway.

It is funny when you consider George Church, a leading CRISPR scientist, would approve of it.

I think there is a genetic basis for belief in god(s). Belief may confer a survival advantage to tribes that carry the genetics for belief. They may be more motivated fighters against other tribes or act more altruisticly toward their kin. The prospect of being able to do something about that certainly should be alarming to any church.

there is no group selection.

Eugenics arrived a long time ago - though as noted here, 'ultimately the Nazi connection will be seen as a bump in the road.' http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/10/further-small-steps-toward-designer-babies.html

No idea why you seem so reluctant to cite that remark - it really does provide insight into how some supporters of eugenics view history. Along with an apparent lack of interest in describing how your current employer also implemented its own eugenics program(s) -

'On March 20, 1924 the Virginia General Assembly passed two laws that had arisen out of contemporary concerns about eugenics and race: SB 219, titled "The Racial Integrity Act[1]" and SB 281, "An ACT to provide for the sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases", henceforth referred to as "The Sterilization Act".

The Racial Integrity Act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth and divided society into only two classifications: white and colored (essentially all other, which included numerous American Indians). It defined race by the "one-drop rule", defining as "colored" persons with any African or Native American ancestry. It also expanded the scope of Virginia's ban on interracial marriage (anti-miscegenation law) by criminalizing all marriages between white persons and non-white persons. In 1967 the law was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in its ruling on Loving v. Virginia.

The Sterilization Act provided for compulsory sterilization of persons deemed to be "feebleminded," including the "insane, idiotic, imbecile, or epileptic."[2]

These two laws were Virginia's implementation of Harry Laughlin's "Model Eugenical Sterilization Law",[3] published two years earlier in 1922. The Sterilization Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Buck v. Bell 274 U.S. 200 (1927). This had appealed the order for compulsory sterilization of Carrie Buck, who was an inmate in the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, and her daughter and mother.

Together these laws implemented the practice of "scientific eugenics" in Virginia.' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_Integrity_Act_of_1924

Always interesting to see how dogged some people's interest in the subject really is. Though admittedly, Virginia is likely a truly insignificant road bump in such a framework, with only 6,683 involuntarily sterilized citizens.

However, this time round, average can truly be over - why even mention Virginia's musty old scientific eugenics law(s) when taking those small steps toward someone's vision of a much better world. Finally, the glorious promise of eugenics is ready for its triumphal return, and this time, its reign should last for more than a mere 1,000 years. We just need the will to ignore the bumps in the road.

While I appreciated this off-topic rant about some state laws that haven't existed in fifty years, I believe this post concerned a rapidly-maturing technology that allows heritable genetic material to be arbitrarily rewritten. What do you think about that?

I genuinely don't understand why you always harp on this. Do you really not think there is a moral difference between voluntarily curing genetic diseases through gene modification and the forced genocide and sterilization of perceived undesirable groups? You come across as very obtuse for not recognizing the difference.

I know I'm not supposed to feed you, but I couldn't resist.

You know, I wonder how common p_a's feelings are. As in, people who literally can't think about trying to make people "better" without involuntarily making strong mental associations to Nazi Klansmen lynching Negroes for whistling at white women on their way to a day's work gassing Jews.

"Always interesting to see how dogged some people’s interest in the subject really is"

Yea, so dogged that they desperately try to tie an econ professor to laws from a hundred years ago by taking what he said about an unrelated subject out of context. Yea, interesting. Or pathetic,

What I find mystifying about p_a's eugenics obsession is that Tyler has been quite vocal about the benefits of neurodiversity...

I live in Germany - no one here considers the Nazis merely to be a bump in the road to a much better world.

Being a native Virginian, I find it highly amusing just how few people seem to know anything about how eugenics was Commonwealth policy for decades. Somehow, we just tend to skip over our own home grown eugenics policies when talking about the bright future that eugenic proponents continue to hold out as humanity's salvation.

The striking thing is how easy it is to find failed eugenics projects over the last century - and how no one can point to a single successful one. A string of failures which seems to merely whet a certain type of person's appetite to get it right, really right, this time. For the greater good, of course. Small steps on that road paved with the purest of motives, especially when staring at the bright future, never being tempted to turn around to see what lays strewn over the already travelled stretch.

You forgot to mention the Mercatus Center in your comment.

Most past "eugenics" efforts didn't have anything close to tools like CRISPR and they were based on killing or sterilization, which is pretty horrific. CRISPR type technology allows humans to modify specific genes and provide people an opt-in service that they actually want and makes their lives better, without anything close to murder.

You make good points, p_a.

My bone of contention is that you make it sound as if Tyler is *advocating* eugenics. I don't see him doing that. I see him saying that lots of other people do, and that over time the Nazi association will recede (perhaps less so in Germany, although Tyler does not say this). That sounds like a prediction, not a hope (nor a fear -- and maybe your point is that Tyler should come out and say it should be a fear, rather than sound so dispassionate). Furthermore Tyler appears to me to be one of the few people who recognizes the merits of neurodiversity, so I think he'd be unlikely to advocate eugenics, simply because he sees potential disagreement about what the "eu-" means. One man's eu- is another man's dys-.

Re: success, animal and plant breeding works pretty well, generally. We couldn't have the modern world without it. Maybe humans are qualitatively different for you.

In humans, the only really useful eugenic tactics I can think of so far are the services to prevent cross matching on dating sites of people both carrying Tay-Sachs risk alleles. And likewise with sperm and egg donors, cross matching and screening so that disease risk alleles aren't carried by conceived children or at least they are heterozygous. There are probably quite a few lesbian mamas who regard their choice of sperm and / or egg donor as a success, to boot.

"Always interesting to see how dogged some people’s interest in the subject really is." <-- This is one of those potentially big bang, change the world for the better ideas. Other people have life long passions about solar power, or electric cars, or space exploration, or treating some class of disease. Those are exciting causes as well.

Based on my interested-layman's knowledge of this stuff, fixing known genetic diseases will probably happen fairly quickly, since at least some of these "traits" are not very complex. Excessive regulation will be pointless. If the FDA cracks down, wealthy Americans will simply fly to China for treatment; at that point, America will officially be a backward country. But I don't think that making people smarter, taller, or more beautiful (or having photosynthetic skin or the ability to survive a hard vacuum for several hours unaided) will occur in the near future because their genetic basis is simply not understood, although there has been an impressive and increasing amount of effort devoting to doing so, and that's complicated by the difficulty of testing computer models in vivo. It takes years to figure out if my treatment made my kids smarter.

Do you know if this process can be applied to someone after they are born? Can you edit a gene in a say, a special needs child who has a genetic disorder?

It can be, but it's trickier to "fix" someone after they've already developed (this is called somatic cell modification by the way, as opposed to germ line). If someone is mentally retarded or crippled because their brain or skeleton didn't properly develop, changing the gene that caused that when the person is 25 years old probably won't do anything. In theory you could trigger new neural or bone growth, but that's way, way beyond anything currently being proposed. It seems like the first attempts to use this tech are probably going to be targeted at bone marrow, because a) a lot of blood diseases are relatively well understood, b) the effects would be seen quickly and c) these changes wouldn't be heritable.

"at that point, America will officially be a backward country."

http://creationmuseum.org/

A bunch of Texas hayseeds using their own money to run a glorified roadside attraction about how the sky used to be purple (I've been there) isn't exactly the same as the US government banning groundbreaking technology because someone who looks down on said hayseeds thinks that it's against God's wi...er, objective philosophical ethics to try to make people smarter.

The American government could pressure the Chinese government to deny the treatment to visiting Americans. China wouldn't risk it's huge volume of American trade for a much smaller business in gene editing. If this does get off the ground(and that's a big if, I've been hearing about this stuff for decades. Where's my flying car?), it's likely that the present elite will simply ban it.

Heh. I bet you only have one passport. SOMEONE's not a member of the elite.

No, I'm not a member of the elite.

Your faith in how well our diplomacy works is charming.

Beyond the obvious fixing of well characterized diseases, another logical step would be addressing the large volumes of junk DNA regular humans have accumulated in their genomes. Fixing lots of small mistakes may provide tangible benefits in regular people.

" If the FDA cracks down, wealthy Americans will simply fly to China for treatment; at that point..."

I think Mexico might be a more likely destination. There's a tendency to lump Mexico in with other third world nations, but it's certainly a much richer country (per capita) than China.

"Let’s say a genetic test indicated a 90% chance that a child-to-come would be troubled with obsessions and unhappy and unsuccessful, and a ten percent chance that the child would grow up to be one of America’s leading entrepreneurs."

"This is one possible institutional failure if there were “market-based” eugenics, namely that parents would be too risk-averse a social point of view. We would end up with too much sameness, both across children and across the generations, and not enough monomaniacal creators."

I love the premise - that of course, genetic engineering will be commonplace, and that our major worry is that parents will be too risk averse in procreating socially beneficial offspring (maybe we should be "nudging" them towards producing widgets with potentially greater social utility, at greater risk...). The commodification of procreation.

Also, the framing - unhappy, unsuccessful: bad, Steve Jobs: good. Nevermind all the unhappy unsuccessful geniuses that ended up producing some of mankind's greatest works. Somehow, it doesn't seem wise to let the economists steer this ship.

What if people chase after the 10% risk instead? Lots of people by lottery tickets.

"...with the ultimate goal of re-creating a woolly mammoth."

Maybe, we'll be able to re-create dinosaurs. We could start a theme park where people could go see them...

Seriously, there's not a single moral, ethical, or societal issue raised by genetic engineering that hasn't already been raised, addressed, and thoroughly put to bed by either Jurassic Park, Gattaca, or both. We have a lot to learn from the mid 90s.

Just don't be grossly incompetent and make your entire operation reliant on a single man and you should be good.....

And consider modularity in your engineering design. For example, how about two electric fences with independent power supplies.

Dinosaurs, yeah!

http://mediacdn.snorgcontent.com/media/catalog/product/i/m/imgettingadinosaur_f_fullpic_5.jpg

I was expecting http://cdn.buzznet.com/assets/users16/ignatz/default/dinosaurs-fricken-laser-beams--large-msg-11834005484.jpg

Riding dinosaurs with mounted laser beams? That's just crazy talk.

Question that is rarely asked: why are there such ethical quandaries around altering genes, given that our genes are the result of totally random activity rather than the careful planning of some intelligent designer? What's the big deal around changing something that was random to begin with?

You don't know if it is random. In my opinion they aren't...

That would be one of the standard religious points of view.

Random? How about I randomly alter your (children's) DNA and see how that works out for you?

As with all recent "genetics" scientific breakthroughs, probably 50% is hype and the other 50% is real, but much more difficult to perform in such a way that it becomes useful for the general population... All in all, don't expect much before 2025.

I think you mean "don’t expect much before 2525." (cue Zager & Evans).

Sorry, someone had to say it :)

Some how I worry we're on the verge of getting a lesson in the law of unintended consequences that will be this generation's Thalidomide tragedy...

there is no great stagnation

Uhhh, isn't the implication the opposite of eugenics?

It depends - how much can you afford to clear up those little DNA mistakes?

And how much can you afford to be one of those people who still has those flaws?

"Here are my thoughts on eugenics." (Links to predictive non-normative account of eugenics).

Is the gene pool a public resource? If so, this has tragedy of the commons written all over it.

First really intelligent comment. Great point.

Ask people in Iceland - 'Icelandic writer and journalist Alda and I are sitting in my hotel room in Reykjavik, talking about her latest blog in which she describes the attempt of the country's leading genetics company deCODE to recruit volunteers to give DNA samples. The company already has over a third of Icelanders in its database but now it wants to double its count.

Earlier this summer, it sent out swab packs in the post with information informing households that couriers would be knocking on doors in the near future to collect the samples from willing participants.

The couriers turned out to be volunteers from the renowned and respected organization ICE- SAR, Icelandic Search and Rescue, whose team members regularly risk their own lives to save others in peril in the dangerous Icelandic landscape. For every sample ICE-SAR collected, deCODE promised to offer a $20 donation to the charity.' http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27903831

And a bit of background from that article - 'It was back in the mid-90s that Kari first realised the potential of mining Iceland's gene pool. With little significant immigration since the Norsemen first settled here in the 9th Century, Iceland is among the most homogeneous nations on earth. With so little background noise to filter in the small population of just 320,000 people, it's much easier for scientists to isolate faulty genes than it is in larger multi-ethnic countries such as Britain or the US. Iceland also has a database containing the genealogy of the entire nation dating back 1,100 years.'

'He pauses and then adds: "Keep in mind my only goal - it is not manipulating the human genome but finding out which variant genes… are behind the common diseases of man."

To further assist in this effort, until 10 years ago, deCODE even had guaranteed access to every Icelander's health records, thanks to a decision taken by the Icelandic Parliament. Then in 2003, a woman sued to keep her deceased father's medical records from going into the deCODE database, citing a right to privacy. Now the company has to approach individuals for their consent.'

"Is the gene pool a public resource?"

Are you attempting to claim a societal right to control on what I do to my personal genes? On what grounds?

Eliminating genetic diversity could be bad for the species?

I was not aware that anything inside my own body is a public resource.

I wonder if 8 considers childbearing a " public resource?". And if he believes that abortion should be heavily regulated to prevent a tragedy of the commons?

As a scientist in the biopharma world, I can tell you this this does indeed seem very close to being done in humans, and that there is a very high (but still not perfect) chance of success. CRISPR/Cas9 is the real deal, and there are others competing for its spot as well (such as zinc-finger TALEN technology, whose discoverers have just called for a similar moratorium on human germ-line work). There's no need to whisper about possible Nobel Prizes in this area - the only difficulty for the Nobel committees will be figuring out how to divide the credit and who exactly to recognize.

The first human applications would surely be the obvious single-mutation genetic diseases. In most cases, this would be done best as germ-line work, followed by in vitro fertilization. The children born after such a process would, of course, pass their altered/repaired DNA to their own offspring, and it's this possibility that has people worried, in case we get it wrong, or in case we start messing around for more arguable traits. (Fixing these problems after you've become a fully sized human is harder, because you have to find a way to treat enough cells in the body to make a lasting difference).

Many of the possibilities that people are most worried about are harder to pin down, though. There's no single gene for height, for example, or intelligence (or Alzheimer's or diabetes, for that matter, to stick with the fixing-what's-broken part of the landscape). Many of the really sticky issues are still a bit downstream, awaiting a better understanding of the human genome, but the big fundamental one is indeed here now: the first deliberate editing of the human genetic inheritance. Tyler's absolutely right about that one - it could be done right now by anyone with the nerve to do it.

Great comment! My views exactly. Note that even though we don't understand the specifics of Alzheimer’s, just substituting ApoE3/4 for ApoE2 would greatly reduce the incidence. Since I am very confident that we will have developed an alternate cure by 2080, it's not likely that editing ApoE in children born today would be cost effective. Too bad we did not discover CRISPR in 1940!

Emphasis on "a bit downstream." As of last year it was estimated that over 200,000 human genomes had been sequenced and, with sequencing costs continuing to fall, that number is expected to double every 12 months. That puts us well over 1 M in just a couple years. With those kinds of numbers it won't be hard to to associate polymorphisms with traits, even though we will have no idea as to the why of the effects. When it comes right down to it, there just aren't that many changes that make us all so seemingly different from each other. Given the prevalence of different forms of body modification around the world, it seems it won't be long before people sign up to make their genome more like this group or that group. Especially if it can be changed back! Or changed to something else later on.

Most of the focus in this thread is on human use-cases. But this is applicable to all of life. I would bet that the beginning of the anthropocene will be marked here, rather than with any other event. This should enable the next green revolution. And possibly worse... https://twitter.com/razibkhan/status/578947367577128960

It is the real deal and is unlikely to be significant in the near future. The BGI (Beijing Genomic Institute) sequenced the genomes of a thousand smart and non so smart people can came up with zilch with regards to genomic correlates for cognitive ability. They are now saying that it will require the sequencing of a million genomes to identify the relevant genes. This does not sound promising to me. If true, the best application for eugenics, making smart kids, is unlikely to be realized. This means eugenics will be limited to mostly cosmetic purposes (height, eye colour, hair colour, etc.) that I don't consider to be terribly significant with regards to social stress.

In other words, we now have the best tools for eugenics and it probably doesn't matter at all.

In 5-10 years time the cost and difficulty of sequencing millions of genomes will be no greater than it is currently for thousands.

Why do some people say there is no innovation? Egads. More than ever, I would say.

Why bother with CRISPR. Just clone Dr. Doudna...She is tall, attractive and intelligent.

Instead of some of the general inanity, people should start to think about how to proceed so that everyone is helped, and no one is left behind. Scientists are right to think through the implications before going forward, and to do it publicly. We should try to develop simple ideas, to help guide scientists in their deliberations about this, and guide the public discussion. Such as:

1. Gene rewriting should be developed for adults as well as embryos. Why shouldn't everyone already alive be smarter, stronger, faster?
2. Gene rewriting should made reversible -- in case it makes a problem, or in case an individual wants to change the results.
3. Gene rewriting should be made as cheap as bubblegum, along with the rest of medical treatment.

These things are coming anyway. But expressions of simple ideas or rules like these, can help to formulate policy and help to guide and reassure public attitudes.

The world has moved into an era of more than you can process. There are more new songs, more videos, more novels created in this instant, than you could ever hear, see, read. There is not enough time in this instant. Worse, it now looks like finding the best of them is also impossible: it looks like there can never be enough filters or "curation".

The same thing is now true in science. To see this, just join Twitter and follow new reports and announcements in biotech, nanotech, materials science, genomics, computation, technology and venture capital. I have been doing this the last month, as an experiment. You will be reading for 8 or 10 hours, you still won't have seen it all. If you do this for a few weeks, you will get the sense that the rate of discovery is palpably accelerating, even over those few weeks.

CRISPR and other genetics discoveries are not the only rapid developments, happening over many different subjects, that are going to massively impact people. Scientists are designing machines to print small organic molecules; 3-D printing and fablabs are going to let you realize almost anything you can think of, including AI robots; neuroimaging is refining the parameters of our understanding of mental abilities and consciousness. Discoveries are so rapid in the areas of medicine, computers, materials science, and technology that a single individual is now unable to follow even the most important developments. Not only are these important in themselves; they will intercombine.

In such a situation, we may end up returning to lists of simple rules for procedure. Not unlike some old stone tablets. Not unlike Asimov's rules for robots. I wonder if Asimov (whom I once met briefly) realized that one reason for the rules would be because our inventions would become so rapid that no other filter, no other curation, could possibly cover our own reception of them.

'people should start to think about how to proceed so that everyone is helped, and no one is left behind'

What do you think the previous proponents of eugenics thought they were doing when 'improving' humanity? Sterilization is all about making sure no one is left behind, while helping everyone.

'We should try to develop simple ideas, to help guide scientists in their deliberations about this, and guide the public discussion.'

Or we could just learn some simple history.

You'd have been great as an ancient Sumerian: "We shouldn't use wheels! What's wrong with dragging stuff on logs!"

As noted above, we have plenty of experience with the results of eugenics projects intended to better humanity.

A singular track record of utter failure, which apparently never stops eugenics proponents from saying this time, it will work properly.

It might be better to say I'm the sort of person that looks at history. Neither slavery nor theocracy have yet to overcome their historical track records, either. And anyone who honestly thinks that this time they know how to do it better is either dishonest or utterly deluded.

If you look at history, technology is as neutral as language. In fact, technology and language are formally indistinguishable. We have plenty of experience of bad results with people using wheels, and plenty of bad results with people using language too.

In these very comment threads on Marginal Revolution we've had plenty of clownish, racist idiots suggesting that genetics is destiny and that people and races should be treated accordingly.

Along with most economists, the owners of this blog, and many of its commenting attendees, have suggested time and again that capitalism is some sort of eternal norm, that markets have existed since the beginning of time, and that worldly rewards should be apportioned by individual merit.

This is all nonsense. History is a very good study for indications of what might happen, and to formulate precautions about the future. But history is not a determinant of the future. That is why scientists are stopping to talk about this, why we should think about it clearly, and why we need rules to proceed.

I'd say the death penalty and prison was a pretty successful eugenics program throughout human history.

The CRISPR technique makes possible gene drive, the capacity to redesign and to transform the genetic constitution of a whole population. Scientists are now talking about eliminating malaria by using gene drive to make mosquitos resistant to the malaria parasite en masse and in a single generation. Very wonderful. On the other hand the potential for using gene drive as a bioweapon is terryifying. See here:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6228/1300.full

and here:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6197/626.full

Yes, gene drive is terrifying: it can quickly wipe out species which have short generations, and requires very little capital to do (I hope terrorists are not reading this). Along similarly scary lines, the synthesis of the 1918 flu from publicly available sequences (Genbank), as was done by the CDC around 2006, is now cheap and easy to do. We still don't have good anti-viral drugs, so such an attack would probably result in the death of 1-5% of the population.

What happens if gene-driven A meets gene-driven A'? Are we back to the normal roughly-50-50 chances of which wins, or do they kill each other, or do both somehow win, or do they destroy the rest of the cell?

This is one of the biggest dangers, and violence also will be possible from nanotech too, since anybody is going to be able to print an army of machines so small that they are invisible to the naked eye, float in the air, spy on people, are breathed in and kill people, or certain kinds of people. Reports are that the military was already developing insect-sized spygear to perch on a wall or ceililng, and it's going to get a lot smaller. A similar issue is going to come up sooner in macroscopic tech, because even now, private drones can be propelled over others' private property, take pictures over fences and through windows, etc. Thus we may legalize drone shoot-downs, if they are hovering over your property. I think we will see a whole R&D industry develop that detects, and defends against, tech, biotech and nanotech assaults.

I, personally, will miss all those clever MR posts on "there is no great stagnation' ;)

The concern that "This is one possible institutional failure if there were 'market-based' eugenics, namely that parents would be too risk-averse a social point of view. We would end up with too much sameness, both across children and across the generations, and not enough monomaniacal creators" would seem to be even more true if there were state-control of CRISPR technology. Pretty much a red-herring either way as no matter how fantastic a Moore's Law one envisions for this technology, it's nearly impossible to see how it will ever be used in anything more than a tiny fraction of total human reproduction. We live in a world in which diarrhea kills 1 in 9 children for crying out loud.

"We live in a world in which diarrhea kills 1 in 9 children for crying out loud." That punishment certainly doesn't fit the crime.

The Nobel is essentially a sure thing here. Now, the question will be list of people who get it. Doudna and her group weren't alone, and the timeline for the Cas system stretches back almost 30 years.

It is a big deal.

The CRISPR advances already didn't win the Nobel prize, because they were just considered technical process refinements to existing genetic engineering techniques and CRISPR knowledge. Maybe that judgement will change.

WOW, anyone remembers the debate between the ideas of Darwin and Lamarck? It seemed that Darwin's idea of evolution won by knockout. But this research brings new evidence to the 150 years old debate and it seems it's a draw. It looks like both were right.

Beyond fear of the unknown and fear of eugenics, this a biology book changing discovery.

I got a preliminary acceptance to a prestigious US university's Cell and Molecular Biology PhD program. I stressed that my interest was human genetic engineering. They withdrew my admissions offer :(

DNA editing is absolutely not eugenics. It keeps the cell alive while changing one or more genes.

At this point we're really just talking about individual cells, but in combination with in vitro fertilization that's enough to genetically engineer a person. The most obvious reason to do that would be to avoid inherited disorders that one of the parents is known to have and for which the gene has been identified. The same can already be done by screening and de-selecting in vitro fertilized eggs.

But obviously the potential for abuse of this technology is huge. We're going to have the ability to edit the DNA code of a human embryo without really being able to read it.

In theory this technology might eventually be able to edit the DNA of multiple cells in a non-lab environment, but it appears to me the researchers aren't very close to that.

Well, not sure whether this belongs in any of the more recent Christianity threads, but the idea of, let's say removing, those who are defective seems to be more appropriate for the eugenics post, especially when written in a ballot initiative like this - '“any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head, or by any other convenient method”'

'McLaughlin's proposal calls same-sex intimacy "a monstrous evil" and says it would be better for gay people to die than for Californians to "be killed by God's just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst."' http://www.latimes.com/local/politics/la-me-anti-gay-measure-20150324-story.html

And almost unsurprisingly, this seems to be where he acquired his legal education - 'The state bar shows that McLaughlin's law license is active and that he graduated from UC Irvine and then George Mason University School of Law. A Huntington Beach attorney with the same name and identical academic background submitted an initiative more than a decade ago that would have allowed public school teachers in California to use the Bible as a textbook.'

i am sure people tell you this often enough but nonetheless. Your not stupid surely you understand that your contributions would be much more valuable if you tried to resist steering every conversation towards your own obsessions. i don't just mean this post.

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