CRISPR and why current racial disputes miss the point

Don’t say it out loud, but the current wave of racial disputes sweeping through western societies is missing the point. Of course people feel their identities deeply, and want justice for themselves (not others, of course), but that is exactly the problem.

Anyone who did a little police or forensic work back in the last century will have been familiar with the anonymous letter rant. Pages of hate-filled invective defending the imagined superiority of one racial group over another, and why mixing with them would lead to degeneration. One anxiety was the sickle cell gene, which evolved in some west African populations as a defence against malaria. We wonder what our anonymous correspondents would say now to the news that CRISPR technology is developing so fast that it can wash away sickle cell problems with the same ease that penicillin washed away tuberculosis. (well, until now!)

Nature Briefings has a delightful story of how a brave lady called Victoria Gray has become the first successful recipient of a CRISPR treatment for sickle cell. This link is packed with good scientists and companies, too numerous to name here. The point is they all think hard, unlike haters. Here are the precis and the links:

As the one year anniversary of her receiving a ground-breaking treatment for sickle-cell disease approaches, it’s good news for Victoria Gray — the first person in the United States to undergo CRISPR gene therapy to treat a genetic disorder. It’s too soon for scientists to reach firm conclusions about the long-term safety and effectiveness of the approach. But for Gray, life is very different from the severe pain attacks and frequent blood transfusions she experienced before. “It’s hard to put into words the joy that I feel — being grateful for a change this big. It’s been amazing,” said Gray.NPR | 7 min read or 6 min listen
Read more: Gene therapy is facing its biggest challenge yet: sickle-cell disease (Nature | 13 min read, from December)

So if CRISPR can modify our genes, what price racial identity in the twenty first century? Except maybe this. One day, people will colonise Mars and the Moon, Both bodies have very different gravitational fields, making it hard for them to return to earth. Humans being what they are, they will start breeding among themselves. And that could very quickly produce new races,maybe even new species.

Species which will regard all the races of earth as amazingly similar. And hostile.

#crispr #sicklecell #npr #davidaltshuler #vertexpharmaceuticals #crisprtherapeutics

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