• MA Senft

Science in Shadows: DNA Editing in the Future

Updated: Aug 9

In the future Danielle shows to Jay, he learns of the dangers of being human in a world ruled by new breeds of mutated animals:

“At first glance he believed it to be a gargantuan bat because of its beady eyes and pointy ears. But then Jay realized the animal had a wingspan beyond all reason, calculating it to be somewhere between ten to fifteen feet. The raptor’s yellow, glowering eyes were cold and measured when it dropped out of the sky for a second pass, its serrated beak was tailored for tearing flesh and Jay was glad it missed.

Although the creature resembled a bird, its rear section did not. Disproportionate with its head, Jay noted, in its retreat, a muscular hindquarter resembling that of a lion—explaining a large wingspan designed to support weight…

The creature lifted to full size, shifting weight to its hindquarter. Jay could smell the stench of it. The animal snorted and stretched its thick neck several feet from its original position. Drool dribbled from the corners of its mouth…Disproportionate arms hung close to its side. Spiky nails dangled inches from the ground. The menacing size was bone-chilling…”

Is it possible that the mutated animals of the future in Shadows of Decembermight become a reality? What is the science behind the futuristic fiction? Let’s take a closer look at DNA splicing to see…

What is DNA splicing/Gene Splicing?

Genes are DNA sequences that code for protein. When a gene is spliced or edited, specific genes are inserted into the genetic material of a different organism, integrating the new DNA into a different creature.

You can’t talk about Gene editing without mentioning the technology CRISPR. What is CRISPR? In a nutshell, scientists figured out how to exploit an oddity in the immune systems of bacteria to edit genes in plants, mice, even humans. With CRISPR, edits to undesirable traits can be made quickly and cheaply with more precision than ever before.

Scientists have currently used CRISPR for lots of amazing things: the reduction of genetic deafness in mice with the hope that it could be used one day to assist with same type of genetic deafness in people. They have edited genes in bone marrow cells to treat sickle-cell anemia and altered genes that help to keep food from browning so quickly. There is much hope for the future of CRISPR, including wiping out entire populations of disease carrying mosquitos, reviving species on the endangered list and improving the strength of various crops.

This piece of technology has lots of positive potential, but also has some issues and concerns surrounding it as well. What if the gene splicing unintentionally rearranges DNA in a way that affects human health? Some recent studies show the possibility of that CRISPR-edited cells might trigger cancer.

This current use of DNA editing could go in all kinds of directions from editing out disease carrying genes to recreating extinct species. It is this uncertainty that I used to create the world of crazy creatures that Jay encounters in the future. We have to be cautious how we use new scientific discoveries: as with all technology, we can choose to use it for good or for evil…the choice is ours to make.

If you could create a new animal/organism, what would it look like? I’d love to know what your futuristic creatures would be!

Learn more about CRISPR:

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M.A. Senft 

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