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10 Possible Future Disasters


10
Genetic Manipulation Gone Wrong
A scientist holds test tubes of DNA that will be used for gene editing of stem cells. John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images
A scientist holds test tubes of DNA that will be used for gene editing of stem cells. John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images

Let's delve into destruction with one of the clearest cases of genie-out-of-the-bottle tech since nuclear arms: genetic manipulation.

From the get-go, ethicists and science-fiction authors alike have feared that our genetic ambitions would outpace our safeguards. We could take comfort in contemporary technology's cost and crudeness and hope that the robustness and adaptability of life would take care of the rest. But newer techniques like CRISPR-Cas9 and TALENs have transformed genetic manipulation from shotgun to laser-guided scalpel. What once took years and cost a small fortune now requires weeks and a few thousand dollars.

On the plus side, the technology could allow us to alter grain genomes to resist fungus or equip mosquitoes with genetic barriers to malaria. But whereas older methods of genetic modification would eventually breed out of populations, these new techniques can leverage "selfish" genes that force organisms to pass modifications to offspring. Put simply, we can now wipe out entire species with a single mistake [source: Maxmen].

In April 2015 a team of Chinese scientists described using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit nonviable human embryos. Scientists have called for a freeze on gene fiddling at such an early stage, and many journals refuse to publish such studies for ethical reasons. But bioethical standards tend to lag behind technology, and who can say what a less ethical party might attempt?


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