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Gene editing deemed a national security threat according to government's latest annual report


CRISPR
(NaturalNews) Gene editing is now considered a national security threat alongside cyberattacks and nuclear weapons. That is, at least according to the government's latest annual report on national security threats. The report listed gene editing as a technology that, "probably increases the risk of the creation of potentially harmful biological agents or products."

Back in 2012, a popular gene editing method known as CRISPR, or "gene drive," surfaced, which enabled researchers to change the DNA of almost any organism with ease. CRISPR tools target, cut and repair snippets of DNA. According to an article published in Nature, researchers plan to use CRISPR to, "adjust human genes to eliminate diseases, create hardier plants, wipe out pathogens and much more."

There are plenty of advantages to be reaped from CRISPR, but they are overshadowed by its disadvantages. So much so, that James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, deemed gene editing a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) in the annual worldwide threat assessment report.

A weapon for bio-terrorists

Authorities have been worried that gene editing technologies like CRISPR are a national security threat for a while. With CRISPR, scientists have created gene drives that guarantee an altered gene is inherited by an organism's offspring and subsequent generations. The FBI, the Pentagon and the United Nations bio-weapons office have been monitoring the technology out of concern that bio-terrorists could use it to bring about mass destruction.

Clapper did not specify why CRISPR has the intelligence community nervous, but several bio-security experts have. In particular, a gene drive that spreads DNA that kills pollinating insects could collapse a country's agricultural system. Terrorist groups like ISIS could use gene drive to breed super killer mosquitoes, which harbor and transmit deadly diseases.

For this reason, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Senior Associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security, was called on to testify about the dangers of gene editing by a National Academy of Sciences panel last year. He described gene editing as "entomological warfare."

Although super mosquitoes are an unlikely threat, the threat CRISPR poses to bio-security is real. Since the technology behind gene drive is relatively inexpensive and widely available, countries increase the risk of spurring dangerous biological agents. Recent discoveries, "move easily in the globalized economy, as do personnel with the scientific expertise to design and use them," states the report.

Piers Millet, an expert on bioweapons at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., said he was surprised that Clapper singled out gene editing on the WMD list, since creating a bioweapon requires a level of expertise in a broad range of technologies.

The unintended consequences of gene editing

The intelligence community is worried about the unintended consequences of CRISPR too – not just the intended consequences of bio-terrorists. Although the goal of CRISPR is to weed out the genetic basis for various illnesses, the technology is not 100 percent effective. Sometimes, gene editing hits more than just a targeted cell. Previous gene therapies have even caused cancer in some patients.

No one is sure what reverberations altering the genome of an organism could have on the environment. It's not just weeding out genetic defects either. In the era of designer babies, parents would be able to hand-select which traits they wanted for their children. After all, who gets to deem what is regarded as an "improvement" of the genome?

"Humanity does not have the maturity and ethical boundaries to play god with organisms of any kind. CRISPR and other genetic editing techniques are amazing marvels of technology, but great technology combined with a wholesale lack of wisdom can lead to catastrophe on a planet wide scale,"said Mike Adams, the Editor of Natural News.

Furthermore, it is not known how germ line editing will impact future generations. Those genetic changes could be passed down when a person has children. According to John Holdren of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, germ line editing for clinical use, meaning pregnancy, "is a line that should not be crossed at this time."

Guidelines and laws about what is and is not allowed by germ line research vary across the globe. Some places ban the research altogether, others allow lab research but not pregnancies, and some have no policies whatsoever. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health does not fund germ line research, but private funding is permitted.

Americans appear to be just as weary of gene editing as security officials. According to a STAT – Harvard poll, approximately 83 percent of Americans are opposed to germ line editing to improve IQ and appearance. According to that same study, however, 59 percent of Americans thought federal health regulators should approve gene therapy, whereas 30 percent thought they should not.

"Given the broad distribution, low cost, and accelerated pace of development of this dual-use technology, its deliberate or unintentional misuse might lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications," said Clapper.

Sources include:

NaturalNews.com

StatNews.com

DNI.gov[PDF]

WorldMag.com

TechnologyReview.com

CBSNews.com

TheGuardian.com

Nature.com

Science.NaturalNews.com
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