The Bridge: Scientific advancements in genetic engineering are making gene editing and reproduction more accessible. How will this impact the world Gen-Z is maturing into?
Un-unaliving the Thylacine
Have you ever heard of a Tasmanian tiger? Neither have we, because it’s been extinct since 1936. However, de-extinction scientists and wildlife conservationists in Australia are working to bring back this lost species, and others. It’s like Weird Science, but with marsupials!
The tiger, also known as a Thylacine, is native to Australia, and scientists believe reintroducing it into the environment would have positive ecological benefits. So…how are they gonna do it?
The science around reanimating an extinct species from just DNA is way above our pay grade, but what we can tell you is that it involves frankensteining living marsupial stem cells with CRISPR, a next-generation gene editing technology (more on this in a bit).
It’s a bit too Jurassic Park if you ask us, especially considering Chris Hemsworth, of the movie franchise, is an investor. As far as the science community is concerned, questions surrounding the necessity of this project are beginning to stick. Will these test-tube Tasmanian tigers (say that a few times) know how to behave in the wild? Could the $5 million investment in this project be better used towards the conservation of endangered, but alive, species and environments? Time will tell.
Copy, Paste, or Delete?
While we wait for the zombie Thylacine apocalypse, we can’t help but wonder how these scientific advancements will change the world that Gen-Z is growing up in, specifically with the help of CRISPR. We’ve even seen the trend of saving stem-cells for gene-editing increase between Gen-Z and Gen Alpha parents.
The same gene-editing technology being used to create embryos has also been able to reverse the deadly effects of genetic disorders like sickle cell anemia, giving hope to many parents of chronically ill children. This gene-treatment could reverse the effects of delayed development, undo paralysis, and restore memory – it’s even been projected to eliminate autism, but advancements like this come with a steep cost.
Unfortunately, extinct tiger DNA isn’t the only thing that’s being experimented with. Because of the projected benefits of CRISPR, major ethics violations have occurred against human beings. Most notably, the 2018 scandal surrounding “CRISPR babies”, where a scientist implanted genetically altered, HIV-resistant embryos into women.
For all we know, he may have made the X-Men.
The scientist in this example was sentenced to 3 years in prison, not for his intentions, but for slipping through the cracks of a system that hadn’t caught up to regulating a new technology.
Gen-Z is growing up in a world where they’ll have the agency and access to participate in these gene therapies, effectively changing their entire lives. Also, if the tiger project is successful, resurrecting long-extinct animals could introduce them to wildlife and ecosystems that haven’t been seen for entire lifetimes.
As for the medical freedoms coming to the most autonomous and accountable generation, we can’t help but wonder how they’ll look back at these early experiments (and shady ethical practices) while simultaneously benefiting from them.
Is it getting a little Sci-fi? Definitely.
Are we excited for them? Absolutely.