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Old 27 May 2017, 02:17 PM
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Default How A Gene Editing Tool Went From Labs To A Middle-School Classroom

Story here.

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Today, the CRISPR tool is no longer something that only researchers do in labs. You can take classes in gene editing at a community lab. You can buy a $150 kit to do it at home. Some middle schoolers are doing it in their science classes.
I can see some downsides to this.

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At Acera, an elementary and middle school in Massachusetts, 13-year-old Abby Pierce recently completed a CRISPR experiment, genetically modifying bacteria so that it could grow in an antibiotic that would have killed it otherwise.
Presumably that particular bacteria was selected as one in which antibiotic resistance was intended to be harmless; and possibly the experiment was run in such a fashion that the bacteria were in any case not going to escape the lab. But what seems to have happened, without very much attention having been paid by society in general, is that genetic engineering has just passed beyond any hope of societial control.
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Old 27 May 2017, 09:19 PM
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ganzfeld ganzfeld is offline
 
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I doubt society in general was ever aware of the problem, perhaps partly because genetic ethicists couldn't come to any agreement on whether there actually was any problem. The fact that these technologies were always possible would have eventually made the default regulation -- i.e. too expensive and conspicuous to do without people noticing, i.e. not any regulation at all -- moot.

I think the danger from children using it is far far less than people using it to try to cause trouble. I think the chances are low that the next superbug is going to crawl out of a classroom by accident. At the same time, we're already facing many superbugs for which we are going to need young biologists educated in the means to control them, including CRISPR.

My guess is that there will be certain "recipes" that are known to make superbugs or dangerous viruses, just as there are recipes to make explosives, poisons, and drugs in one's basement and there will (hopefully) be methods developed to control these. We've been playing this game for millions of years. On the one sense it's out of society's control but on the other hand this is the first time we've really had any control over this arms race at all.

(Just my two cents. I know for a fact that we have board members far more qualified to talk about this.)
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Old 27 May 2017, 09:52 PM
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ASL ASL is offline
 
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Originally Posted by ganzfeld View Post
I think the danger from children using it is far far less than people using it to try to cause trouble. I think the chances are low that the next superbug is going to crawl out of a classroom by accident.
I'm more concerned that the students are becoming self-aware. If they ever discover Facebook, they might then become self-absorbed. Then we're toast. Civilization could collapse... Look what it did to Narcissus! Next thing you know, Athens is no longer the most powerful city-state in the world and the Peloponnesian League is the rival of the Delian Leagure and Greek civilization collapses into the sea to be surpassed by Rome. Rome falls and then for a long time nothing happens. Now here we are, on the verge of collapse ourselves.

And Carthage must be destroyed!
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Old 28 May 2017, 03:24 AM
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Originally Posted by thorny locust View Post
Presumably that particular bacteria was selected as one in which antibiotic resistance was intended to be harmless; and possibly the experiment was run in such a fashion that the bacteria were in any case not going to escape the lab.
The basic process of introducing antibiotic resistance into bacteria is one of the most fundamental lab process of modern molecular biology. (Modern meaning the last 50 years or so). Literally millions of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains have been produced. Heck even I've done it. The human genome (or any other genome of even gene for that matter) wouldn't have been sequenced without the procedure. The resistance is to a single antibiotic or family of antibiotics. For example, resistance to tetracycline or to beta-lactams like penicillin.
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Old 28 May 2017, 01:18 PM
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thorny locust thorny locust is offline
 
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To clarify: I'm not horribly worried about the specific experiment that was cited going wrong.

What's worrying me is that the technique's now available for anybody's classroom or kitchen table, whether or not they have any idea what they're doing, and whether or not they have malicious intent.

ASL, I'm not sure what your point is. That civilizations have disappeared before, and people died in the process? That the world changes, and we have to deal with the current state of it, and not with the state of it thousands of years ago? Both of those things are obviously true.

ganzfeld, for the most part I agree with that; but there is a significant difference between homemade explosives and homemade genetic changes, which is that the explosives don't proliferate on their own, while living organisms very often do. Also, of course, we do now try to make it difficult for people to make their own explosives, drugs, etc.
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