Title: As D.I.Y. Gene Editing Gains Popularity, ‘Someone Is Going to Get Hurt’
Author: Emily Baumgaertner
Source: New York Times Online
Date: May 14, 2018
As genetic engineering becomes easier and more widespread, it is even possible for non experts to purchase and use genetic engineering kits. While this is exciting from an innocent point of view, it has already led to some arguably undesireable results. Many online communities have formed where users can share their techniques and are leading to entire conventions based around DIY gene editing. However, there are several issues with where this can lead. Since many users are attempting to make themselves better or stronger, dosing themselves with homebrew medicines to cure uncurable diseases (instead just making themselves more viral) or stronger (to no avail), then many at home scientists are testing the ethical and practical limits of biology. In actual scientific communities, guidelines and procedures are established so that such experiments are tested rigorously before becoming publicly available, such as passing human trials and then a regulatory test by the FDA, however now non-experts can spread their own "solutions" widely without truly testing the consequences (or perhaps even having a theoretical justification)!
Even worse than accidental poisoning, a team of scientists has already successfully recreated a close relative of smallpox through purchasing online DNA samples entirely legally. This could have the impact of a nuclear weapon, but could be built in a garage. While nuclear warfare has seemed to transfix the attention of the entire population and an entire country having access to that weaponry has terrified the world, the possibility of one recluse building a specially designed, uncurable lethal virus is not only possible but even more frightening.
This is why I am afraid to know the future of DIY gene editing, and the population should be too. Even in the hands of scientists it can have scary consequences (eg. choosing a "superior" race and then justifying genocide), but those agencies are still subject to heavy peer review and public criticism. An individual, especially if insane or simply innocent, can create a life-threatening epidemic within their garage without any supervision. It is easy to surpress threats of a clearly organized body of people, such as an entire nation, but preventing the actions of a single group (or person) are incredibly difficult, which is the reason that the "war on terror" has lasted longer than any war between nations.