Team:East Chapel Hill/Collaborations

"Should We Edit the Genome?" Forum Collaboration with Duke University

The Building With Biology tools and information have been utilized by many for its unique approach to teaching and spreading information about Synthetic Biology.

We reached out to Duke University iGem and together, we organized a forum using tools from Building With Biology. At the forum, we discussed a rather relevant and hotly-debated subject: Should We Edit the Genome? When, Why, and How Much?.

CRISPR refers to gene editing techniques that can cut and edit DNA at precise locations. With these systems, researchers can permanently modify cells and in the future, may be able to correct mutations in the human genome to treat different diseases. CRISPR uses the Cas9 enzyme to cut DNA strands, and can be matched with "guide" RNA (or gRNA) strands that can lead them to the target sections of DNA.

Although our project does not specifically utilize CRISPR technologies, we understood the significance of this new technology and its applications. Through this forum, we were able to gain a more complete understanding of CRISPR technology and the ethical and societal implications of its use.

The program for this forum was as follows:

- 10 minutes: Introduction and welcome from Duke University professor about CRISPR technologies.

- 10 minutes: Background Information

- “What is CRISPR”? 90 second video by Carl Zimmerman.

- 50 minutes: Read through and discuss applications of CRISPR technologies, and ultimately decide whether or not to implement the application, and restrictions on the application.

We were delighted to facilitate this discussion and hear the opinions of the public on the societal and ethical impacts of using CRISPR technologies. A common opinion that was voiced throughout the forum was that at this time, gene editing should not be used for clinical reproductive purposes, especially because the risk cannot be justified by the possible benefits. Many countries have passed legislation banning the genetic modification of the hunan genome, but in 2016, the United Kingdom licensed the use of CRISPR on embryos. When we touched on this, the general consensus was that this decision could push science to uncharted territories, including "designer babies". This opened up some discussion about the ethically gray areas that are expanding with every advancement made in science.

Topics relating CRISPR we discussed at the forum included the difference between therapy and enhancement, inaccessibility of gene therapy because of cost issues, and heritable genome changes to decrease risk for diseases. In the future, we hope to collaborate with Duke University iGEM again and apply logistical lessons we learned this year.