CRISPR Gene Editing Lies Exposed by Genomics Expert: The ‘Official’ Narrative is Just Another GMO
Echoing industry talking points, mainstream news sources have been publishing article with headlines such as, “Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.”
“The hubris is alarming; but the more subtle element of the propaganda campaign is the biggest and most dangerous improbability of them all: that CRISPR and related technologies are ‘genome editing,'” Latham writes on Independent Science News. “That is, they are capable of creating precise, accurate, and specific alterations to DNA.”
Latham notes that this “public relations blitz” is directed from the top-down, citing a senior representative of the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) who told the UN meeting on biotechnology in February about the “exquisite specificity” and “precision” of the new gene editing technologies. These talking points are now even being parroted by serious scientific publications, with a recent article in Nature titled, “Super-muscly pigs created by small genetic tweak.”
Latham notes that the words “small” and “tweak” both constitute value judgments, neither of which is in line with the information presented in the article.
The technology in question is known as Clustered Regularly-Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats/CRISPR associated protein 9: CRISPR/cas9, or simply CRISPR for short. It consists of using a guide RNA to direct a DNA-splicing protein to a specific site on the genome. But is it really the miracle innovation it’s billed as?
No such thing as precision
Latham deconstructs three myths of the biotech industry. The first is that CRISPR is so precise that it is not prone to errors. In fact, the opposite is true: CRISPR experiments regularly produce mutations far off on the genome.
“So far, it is technically not possible to make a single (and only a single) genetic change to a genome using CRISPR and be sure one has done so,” Latham writes. In fact, there is no evidence that such a degree of precision is even biologically possible.
The second myth is that precision is the same thing as control; that is, the ability to splice an exact gene confers equally precise control over the biological outcome.
“Suppose, as a non-Chinese speaker, I were to precisely remove from a Chinese text one character, one line, or one page,” Latham writes. “I would have one hundred percent precision, but zero control over the change in meaning. Precision, therefore, is only as useful as the understanding that underlies it, and surely no DNA biologist would propose we understand DNA–or else why are we studying it?”
The third myth is that “DNA functions are modular and changes are predictable,” that is, each gene produces only a single trait, and does so all the time. But although this was the model first used to describe genetics, there is no evidence that any gene actually operates in this fashion. And it is also untrue that genes always have the same effects, Latham notes: “Most gene function is mediated murkily through highly complex biochemical and other networks that depend on many conditional factors,” such as the age of the organism, environmental conditions, interactions with other genes and even random chance.
As a counter-example to these myths, Latham returns to the example of the muscly pigs: In addition to more muscles, the pigs developed other traits such as thicker skin, thicker bones, difficulty giving birth and a greater appetite.
“Thus a supposedly simple genetic tweak can have wide effects on the organism throughout its lifecycle,” he writes. “Nature also revealed that thirty of the thirty two pigs died prematurely and only one animal was still considered healthy at the time the study authors were interviewed. So much for precision.”
Sources for this article include: