Viewpoint: ‘Genetic reductionism’ — Why CRISPR is not the answer to every problem

Credit: Jonathan Jarnstead/Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Credit: Jonathan Jarnstead/Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Referring to DNA as the code of life, a rigid blueprint for who we are, implies that we are the mere products of a series of chemical letters inherited from our parents. This is known as genetic reductionism.

If society adopts a genetic reductionist outlook, it may lead governments and scientists to try to solve social problems with CRISPR rather than public policy. A Carter administration report on the matter, entitled “Splicing Life,” flagged this possibility, saying, “if genetically engineered changes ever become relatively easy to make, there may be a tendency to identify what are in fact social problems as genetic deficiencies of individuals or to assume that the appropriate solution to a given problem, whether social or individual, is genetic manipulation.”

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Even today, scientists have a deeply limited comprehension of the human genetic landscape. We are still in the dark about how much of our DNA works, and what the consequences will be of changing it. This is a limitation that may be alleviated as we learn more about genetics, but for the time being, there is an argument to be made that we simply don’t know enough to take the chance — especially when there are effective alternatives available to us.

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