Ray Kurzweil is an acclaimed scientist who feels that, based on the acceleration of technology; human beings are primed to take a gigantic leap forward in terms of what we’re capable of. The best example he provides is that a smartphone can fit in your pocket, and is exponentially more powerful than the most advanced computer in the 1970’s (which took up a whole floor in a building).
Gene editing is a huge part of what is allowing scientists to think big. CRISPR-Cas9 technology allows us to edit genes. Ideally, this will lend itself to treating diseases in the future as we can “turn off” genes associated with cancer, for one example. The CRISPR technology is so accessible that even amateur scientists are able to use it for their own experiments.
There are major ethical issues that come along with these advancements. Some countries have outlawed editing human genes, which would be done through embryos. Germany has some of the strictest laws on this issue, while Japan, China, and Ireland have more relaxed laws. When this testing has occurred, it’s been done on non-viable embryos. Pigs have been used for many of the experiments, which have yielded results like a micro pig that has large muscles, and most useful, a pig engineered to have organs that would be suitable for human transplant.
The potential for this technology is amazing, just as its potential for abuse is frightening. Scientists are very aware of the implications and regularly hold conferences to establish the most ethical way forward. Hopefully society will be able to reap the rewards and avoid the pitfalls.