It’s no secret that technology develops at a rate incomparable to that of law. As the legal community grapples to regulate AI, the music industry, and social media, another industry seeks legal attention: gene editing.
The gene-editing company CRISPR Therapeutics, famous for developing its CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing platform, recently successfully edited human embryos. According to the MIT Technology Review, researchers altered the DNA of singular-cell embryos using CRISPR. However, they had no intention of implanting the embryos and none of the embryos were permitted to develop for more than a few days.
What’s more, scientists used the CRISPR technology to place a GIF inside the genomes of living bacteria, also reported by the MIT Technology Review. You read that right: the same moving images used by countless social media users can also be reconstructed into the very fibers of life. Shameless Dad joke: You are what you Tweet.
Aside from the infinite puns, the experiment tested the limits of DNA storage and only alluded to what gene editing may be capable of.
The research findings showed humans may be able to store large amounts of information in our DNA or record what’s happening inside a cell and make “living sensors,” much like computers. Some questions immediately arise, such as how the information can be used and who owns the information recorded from the living sensors (the individual who owns the cell or the company that implanted the recording device). Reactive, and if possible, proactive, lawmaking is necessary to resolve these uncertainties.
Ultimately, the legal world should be working to ensure humans don’t become intellectual property. Patients don’t own their own medical records in most states and it would be dangerous if individuals with living sensors don’t own the information collected from their DNA. Although patients have access to most of their medical records and can deny an individual or group access to their files, DNA information and its collection should operate differently. Private companies could easily find a piece of information that an individual may not think to specifically request. Moreover, companies could easily profit from an individual’s DNA since that person may not have access to some of the information gathered and does not own the information.
We’re at a crucial point in history where we must either aggressively pursue reasonable policy regarding gene editing or be bystanders to this technological shift. We’ve been warned of AI takeover before and gene editing is no different.
Photo credit: MIT Technology Review
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