Even at our most peaceful time of the day, when we are calm, not moving, in silence, no matter how quiet our body looks, there is something completely different going on inside us. In our body there are thousands of chemical reactions going on, numerous biochemical routes working at the same time and for the most part they are all perfectly balanced. This dynamic equilibrium is our own point in evolution, where we, as an individual or a group, fit into our environment.

In every balanced system, affecting one of the components may cause an imbalance that puts at risk the whole group integrity.

Of all biomolecules or cell components, DNA is probably the most challenging and interesting from a biological point of view. DNA constitutes the genetic instructions for the development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms and therefore genetically determines who or what we are.

It is thus with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that the ready availability of techniques such as RNA interference or CRISPR allows facile genome modification. The issue is that this genetic technology can be used to modify an entire population by inserting a desired genetic mutation into an animal, microbe or plant, raising the possibility of uncontrolled egress into subsequent generations.  Taking the positives these techniques could be used for example, to render insect vectors unable to carry malaria, dengue or yellow fever parasites (to name a few). However, it could also have environmental costs which are impossible predict and more importantly, to reverse if mutant species are introduced without controls. All ecosystems are to some extent delicate and should be protected. But then, there is a point. Could CRISPR be an eco salvation? We are beset with the uncontrolled changing of ecosystems due to “natural” invasive species…plant or animals that live where they do not naturally do so.  Could CRISPR be used to create limited viability organisms that could help negate invasive species?

DNA technology is an extremely powerful tool and must be handled with caution. We are all part of nature and we must be cautious not to disrupt any biological balance. Amazingly, DNA technology is giving us the power to change evolution and if that is compatible with respect for and the preservation of natural ecosystems, then there must surely be room for an informed debate.

– Dr. Maria Gonzalez