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Someone Will Eventually Use CRISPR to Try to Make a Dragon or Unicorn

Stashed in: Unicorns!, Awesome, Dragons!, Elephants, Giraffes, Interesting Tidbits, CRISPR

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A future where the gene editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 is used by DIY biologistsgenetic engineering startups, and even artists create fanciful organisms straight out of sci-fi is not just possible—it's likely, argue two of the country's top bioethicists.

"Why should we not expect dwarf elephants, giant guinea pigs, or genetically tamed tigers?" Hank Greely of Stanford School of Medicine and Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine write in the essay “CRISPR Critters and CRISPR Cracks.” "Or—dare we wonder—the billionaire who decides to give his 12-year-old daughter a real unicorn for her birthday?"

Greely and Charo argue that such overlooked or even "frivolous" uses of the gene editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 could fall through regulatory cracks and may ultimately have a greater impact on our environment than human editing ever would.

"Humans are terrible laboratory animals. We don't follow instructions, we have long generation times, and we can hire lawyers. [Human genome editing] has a gauntlet of satiates, regulations, bureaucracies, and (potentially) courts that it must run," they wrote in the essay, published in The American Journal of Bioethics. "Nontraditional gene-editing applications such as bringing back the mammoth or growing a psychedelic garden might face only limited scrutiny if they fall into the cracks. This essay is, in in essence, a plea—let's not ignore the nonhuman part of the biosphere."

Greely and Charo note that gene editing has already been used by artist Eduardo Kac to create a green rabbit; that genetically modified "GloFish" can be purchased in most places in the United States; and that startups are already advertising color-changing flowers on Kickstarter. Can a real-life "dragon" or other organisms created as "spectacles" be far behind?

"Basic physics will almost certainly combine with biological constraints to prevent the creation of flying dragons or fire-breathing dragons—but a very large reptile that looks at least somewhat like the European or Asian dragon (perhaps even with flappable if not flyable wings) could be someone's target of opportunity," they write.

Dwarf elephants is my dream!!

Can we have dwarf pandas too? And petite lap giraffes?

Like this?   (looks legit!)

petite lap giraffe cam meme imgur

Oh yeah!  Stashed in Favorites!

Well played. That is certainly a favorite!

Top Reddit comment:

You might think that adding a simple physical structure to an animal would be simple. Specially structures that are already present in other animals.

But it is important to consider CRISPR is used to insert and remove genes. There's no horngene in horned animals. There are arrays of genes for the developmental process of horn formation. There there are genes that regulate when and where is the expression of all those genes going to happen. And there are differentiation mechanisms that guide cells in their fate to support said development. And all the support mechanisms that coordinate the process among the different cells involved. Cell to cell communication is critical during development.

I still think a unicorn is possible. But in comparison to tweaking size, pigmentation or even aggression adding a new structure might not be within the reach of CRISPR. And altering an organism to the point where you could create "a dragon" is even less likely (with CRISPR).

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