The world's top geneticists decided to spend the vast majority of last week discussing how to keep new genetic editing tools from ultimately destroying the human race.
A noble goal, sure...
But considerably less time has been spent discussing how genetically editing other species might change the idea of "nature" as we know it.
A future where the gene editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 is used by DIY biologists, genetic engineering startups, and even artists create fanciful organisms straight out of sci-fi is not just possible - it's likely, argue two of the country's top bioethicists.
Hank Greely and Alta Charo argue that such overlooked or even "frivolous" uses of the gene editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 could fall through regulatory cracks and may ultimately have a greater impact on our environment than human editing ever would.
"A very large reptile
that looks at least somewhat like the European or Asian dragon
(perhaps even with flappable if not flyable wings)
could be someone's target of opportunity"
Greely and Charo note that,
Can a real-life "dragon" or other organisms created as "spectacles" be far behind?
Greely and Charo aren't opposed to the gene editing technique - they just suggest that there's not even a modicum of regulatory clarity when it comes to what government agencies should be responsible for deciding when it's OK to use CRISPR/Cas9.
A Florida-based company called Oxitec is highly interested in using CRISPR/Cas9 to genetically modify mosquitoes in order to sterilize the mosquitoes that carry dengue fever.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is deciding whether or not the company should be allowed to follow through with a planned test using "animal drug" regulations that take into account whether or not the gene editing is safe for the health of the mosquito.
Meanwhile, it could be argued that both the US Department of Agriculture's animal and plant health regulations or the Environmental Protection Agency's pesticide regulations should apply to the trial.
CRISPR, of course, is neither a "drug" nor strictly a "pesticide."
Things get complicated...
Neither Greely nor Charo profess to have any answers here:
So, something to think about, I suppose.