The High Stakes World of Gene Editing

The appeal and success of Marvel’s superhero movies and spin-off series are converging with the real world of AI, the quest for the superhuman and unprecedented biomedical developments at a dizzying speed.

Enter CRISPR-Cas9, the newest gene editing tool that is creating a buzz in the high stakes financial world of pharmaceuticals, academia and research that is sparking a global patent race for new and innovative DNA sequencing methods.

According to the, “Genome editing is a way of making specific changes to the DNA of a cell or organism. An enzyme cuts the DNA at a specific sequence, and when this is repaired by the cell, a change or ‘edit’ is made to the sequence.”

To date, the CRISPR-Cas9 tool is the fastest and least expensive method for researchers and geneticists to alter, add or remove DNA sequencing.

Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the University of California, University of Vienna and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier a patent that covers a new CRISPR-Cas9 single-molecule guide RNAs, or nucleic acid molecules, encoding the guide RNAs. The patent makes this the lucky 13 patent in Berkley’s  impressive CRISPR-Cas9 portfolio and follows the issuance of 10 other patents in the past six months.

According to a September 12 press release, the patent is expected to “further expand the university’s portfolio through the issuance of four additional patents in the near future.”

In total, the patents that have been issued and those that are set to be issued bring the university’s portfolio to 17 U.S. CRISPR-Cas9 patents that cover various compositions and methods of targeting and editing genes in any setting, including plant, animal and human cells.

Many of the proposed applications involve editing the genomes of somatic, or nonreproductive cells, but there has been a lot of interest in and debate about the potential to edit germline, or reproductive, cells.

Editing reproductive cells is loaded with ethical implications because they can be passed on from generation to generation, which is why gene editing of germline cells is currently illegal in most countries and it is illegal in human embryos allowed to develop past 14 days.

With the number of AI developments involving brain and other biomedical implants coupled with gene editing, people are rightfully concerned that this scientific race for perfection may result in a race of “super humans.”

According to the Pew Research Center, “Cutting-edge biomedical technologies that could push the boundaries of human abilities may soon be available, making people’s minds sharper and their bodies stronger and healthier than ever before.

“But a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults shows that majorities greet the possibility of these breakthroughs with more wariness and worry than enthusiasm and hope.”

No matter, the millions of investment dollars chasing these research patents in the hope to capitalize on any successful breakthrough, makes it impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Investors are backing companies that are racing to international patent offices in hopes that the the pioneering innovations of the CRISPR-Cas9 will prove lucrative.

The European Patent Office, which represents more than 30 countries, as well as patent offices in the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and other countries, have all issued patents for the use of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing in all types of cells.

The University of California, which allows nonprofit institutions, including academic institutions, to use the technology for non-commercial educational and research purposes, is also chasing big dollars through its exclusive license with Caribou Biosciences, Inc., which has sublicensed this patent family to numerous companies worldwide, including Intellia Therapeutics, Inc. for certain human therapeutic applications and CRISPR Therapeutics AG and ERS Genomics Limited.

When it came to light that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was swimming in sex-trafficker and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s money, it shocked the nation, but not likely those who are in the high stakes financial world of research.

According to Wired, “The entire system for metabolizing philanthropic gifts, particularly private ones, into academic research is a poorly illuminated pile of broken guardrails. Even if most institutions and foundations are cautious internally, even if the unfolding scandal with Epstein and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is an outlier, the system is essentially a pool of dark money. Its sources and goals are often unclear, or occult.

“But it’s money that research institutions need—or, at least, want. Stipulated, most donors want to help the world. Some also want to build a legacy. Most institutions want the same. But those desires are threaded through an ethical minefield.”

Epstein was a well known religious believer in eugenics in the circles he traveled in, even declaring his desire to “seed the human race with his DNA.” In a report by the New York Times that was allegedly based on interviews with more than a dozen of his acquaintances as well as public records, Epstein described his desire to curry favor with accomplished scientists “to pursue his interests in eugenics and other fringe fields like cryonics.”

According to the Times, “Mr. Epstein’s vision reflected his longstanding fascination with what has become known as transhumanism: the science of improving the human population through technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. Critics have likened transhumanism to a modern-day version of eugenics, the discredited field of improving the human race through controlled breeding.”

A now defunct charity established by Epstein in 2011 also gave $20,000 to the World Transhumanist Association, which now operates under the name Humanity Plus and gave $100,000 to pay the salary of Ben Goertzel, its vice chairman. Blaire Ostler, a self-professed religious transhumanist who serves on the board of two transhumanists organizations says, ” I think transhumanism is a good idea, but we have a lot of work to do which extends beyond nanotechnology, the singularity, AI or mind uploading.

“Transhumanism is bigger than experimental technologies. My interrogation of transhumanism’s relationship with elitism is made to make the movement stronger, not weaker. Transhumanism doesn’t need to be torn down. It needs to be improved. Right now, transhumanism has a weak spot that needs to be confronted: elitism.”

It appears that us little people who the Pew Institute interviewed, though we may not have any working knowledge of the funding and sometimes dark and illegal research that goes into transhumanism, inherently know it often takes someone with a God complex to tamper with the human creation.

It is no wonder then that we should be wary. The elite have always been attracted to immortality and youth, which I covered in The Post-Human Movement.

Although many of us would like to see crippling diseases eradicated, there is something very dark about permanently changing the human DNA for generations to come. According to Ostler, the transhumanist movement is generally led by wealthy, straight, white, male atheists.

His candor on where these transhumanist stand on spirituality also begs that those of us who believe it is inherently wrong to tamper with what God has made and deemed “good,” at least be brave enough to be vocal about what the tragic consequences of altering humans may be.

In Revelation 9:6, a strange prophecy is declared that says, “During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.” Until the past several decades, it was difficult to fathom exactly what this passage might mean.

Today, it is easy to see how perhaps a transhumanist may not be actually fully human one day and therefore, any attempt to end his life may be hampered by some sort of bio enhancement that regenerates the human body, thus avoiding death. After all, isn’t this what transhumanist ultimately seek, mastery over life and death and to become their own gods? To upload their brains for all eternity?

Ancient history is a reminder that mankind has always sought to hamper with the human genome. “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” (Gen. 6:4) These hybrid beings became what we recognize today as the Titans and other Greek and Egyptian gods and chimeras that have been relegated to the pages of folklore and mythology. But are they? I wrote at length about this possibility in a previous article, Monster’s Ball.

As early as 2005, a new set of guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research were issued by the National Academies of Sciences that would permit the creation of human-animal hybrids, but would not allow them to breed. The guidelines permit the introduction of human embryonic stem cells into nonhuman mammals, “under circumstances where no other experiment can provide the information needed.” Today, scientist are routinely creating human-animal chimeras.

No matter what you believe, it’s indisputable that big, dark dollars are currently chasing our nation’s research universities in the quest to tamper with human DNA in the high stakes world of gene editing, which means we must all stay alert to who is funding these scientific breakthroughs and what their motives may be. Self-appointed bioethics committees are not enough to keep the half wolf away from the door. #Reignwell