Part 1: Topic Proposal
The scientific project is called “Targeted meiotic recombination using CRISPR-Cas9 for crop improvement.” The project was suggested by an agricultural investigator called Beth Rowan. Published in 2019, the project is aimed at testing the CRISPR Cas9 system to direct meiotic crossovers (COs) to specific regions of the genome of the selected plant Arabidopsis thaliana. In this case, guided RNA will be used to fuse Cas9 to different proteins with the aim of coming up with modified breeds of the plant that is viable to the changing environment (Bortesi, & Fische, 2015). However, there have been ethical concerns related to the CRISPR-Cas9 editing of plant genomes. Such issues include;
Following the ethical concerns listed above, scientists are making efforts to address them to ensure that the project is a success. Different stakeholders are also involved in the process.
Part 2: Ethics Essay
As shown in the proposal above, the project was about applying the CRISPR-Cas9 system for crop improvement. As such, a specific plant called Arabidopsis thaliana was used in this study. The aim of the project was to come up with new traits of the plant that could thrive well in the changing environment. Although modifying the genetic makeup of plants is possible, there are several ethical concerns that delay the whole process. In this regard, scientists are forced to address the ethical issues before making a final conclusion concerning the project.
Ethical Issues Raised in the Targeted Meiotic Recombination Project
Genetic modifications in the genome makeup of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana is aimed at discovering breeds of the plant that will thrive successfully in the changing environment. Still, there are ethical issues accompanying the meiotic recombination project. As much as it will be beneficial to people who use it, there are some shortcomings about it that should be addressed in advance. Besides, understanding the ethical concerns surrounding the project can help scientists and agricultural investigators to determine the best way to address them before the project is implemented.
In the case of the CRISPR-Cas9 system project, there are three ethical concerns. Firstly, the modified Arabidopsis thaliana plant may pose more risks than benefits. As usual, subjecting an organism to genetic modification causes mutations in the original cells of the plant. In the case of Arabidopsis thaliana, the plant has up to 42 genomes. As such, crossovers directed to the different genomes may lead to different outcomes. For example, some of the modified species of Arabidopsis thaliana may develop negative outcomes such as the inability to keep away insects such as weevils and being subjected to desiccation (Niemiec, & Howard, 2016). Not all mutations result in positive outcomes. Thus, routine gene modification of Arabidopsis thaliana plant may render it an extinct species due to the negative mutations that cause the death of the plant species due to incompatibility with the environment. In this regard, CRISPR-Cas9 may produce targets that are of high risk, thus, affecting the nature of the natural plant. Also, CRISPR-Cas9 may fail to be delivered in the cells of the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, and this may affect the expected outcomes.
The second ethical issue involves the effects of the process of gene typing on the environment. It has been confirmed that experiments involving guided RNA based on CRISPR-Cas9 technique can result in environmental effects due to the multiple mutations that occur on the plant during the process of gene modification. Transferring genes from one plant to another also passes the unwanted traits in those genes. For example, Arabidopsis thaliana plants that are infected by diseases have faulty genes as well. Thus, it is possible that transferring their genes to other plants of the same species spreads its diseases too. In this case, continuous gene transfer can lead to the spread of unwanted traits to all plants in the environment. At last, all Arabidopsis thaliana plants in the ecosystem will be ruined by the transferred genes. Therefore, targeted meiotic recombination can as well lead to ecological disequilibrium which renders all the initially healthy plants infected with the unwanted genetic traits.
Furthermore, genetic typing and modification may result in the regulation of consumer use of the organisms as they were used before. In this regard, the used of Arabidopsis thaliana plants may change due to restrictions from the concerned bodies. Modified plants may display unusual traits that render them useless. Arabidopsis thaliana plant is edible. However, continuous modification may render it inedible due to the changes in gene composition and acquisition of traits that make it unhealthy for human consumption. As such, organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may implement serious measures against the use of such plants as a source of food.
Scientists’ Efforts to Address the Ethical Issues
As hinted earlier, understanding ethical issues relating to the project of targeted meiotic recombination using CRISPR-Cas9 technique can help agricultural investigators and researchers to find appropriate approaches to address the ethical issues. Since the issues have already been identified, it is possible for them to be addressed. First of all, the ethical issue concerning the possible risks of modifying the genes of Arabidopsis thaliana can be addressed by avoiding random gene typing and modification. Due to the many genomes of the plant, adequate research should be done to determine genomes that can undergo crossovers without posing a risk to the involved plants. After identification, compatible species can then be used as models for gene typing and modification. In this case, more benefits than risks will be attained from the plants that have undergone the changes.
Secondly, scientists can avoid the issue of modified Arabidopsis thaliana plants causing ecological disequilibrium by studying the genetic traits of the involved plants before subjecting them to genetic transfers. In this regard, plants that have unfavorable traits will be excluded, and only those that are viable will be used in the process. Therefore, traits that can cause harm to all plants in the environment will not be transferred. Lastly, the ethical issue about regulation for consumer consumption of the genetically modified plants can as well be addressed. For this case, adequate research should be done concerning the targeted meiotic recombination before attempting to do the modification using the CRISPR-Cas9 system. By doing this, only genetic modifications that do not ruin the plant’s dietary components will be initiated. As such, all modified Arabidopsis thaliana planted will be free for consumption. Still, plants that have already been suspected of being unfit for human consumption should be disregarded.
According to the laid down ethical considerations concerning genetic testing, any issue that brings ethical dilemmas should be addressed appropriately to avoid impending problems. For instance risks such as destruction of the entire species due to targeted meiotic recombination can be avoided before carrying on the process. Therefore, scientists applied this ethical consideration to rule out any risks attached to genetic modification of the Arabidopsis thaliana plant. Also, ethical considerations concerning genetic testing show that genetic testing should not cause any harm to the environment. Thus, scientists as well applied this principle to analyze any ecological risks of modifying Arabidopsis thaliana. Lastly, in genetic testing, it is documented that no genetic testing should cause harm to human beings involved in the test. Hence, researchers had to address the issue of consumption of Arabidopsis thaliana with unfavorable traits.
Stakeholders involved in the Project
Stakeholders, in this case, include researchers, farmers, and environmentalists. Each of them plays a crucial role in the project. Firstly, researchers possess adequate knowledge about plants including Arabidopsis thaliana (Polstein, & Gersbach, 2015). Thus, they can apply the knowledge to ensure that the CRISPR-Cas9 technique is successful in modeling the Arabidopsis thaliana genes. They also analyze and address ethical issues related to the plant. Therefore, researchers play a huge role in the gene testing process. Secondly, farmers have their own contribution to the gene testing process of Arabidopsis thaliana. Since they practice farming frequently, they can determine the risks and benefits of gene typing and modification. As such, they can play the role of updating research on the risks of genotyping. Besides, they can help researchers in performing research on different plants by providing required specimens. Although some farmers may not understand the scientific and biological basis of gene typing, they somehow understand how natural and genetically modified plants grow and reproduce. Hence, they can play a vital role in the gene modification process of Arabidopsis thaliana.
Lastly, environmentalists are as well key stakeholders in this project. As discussed before, some genetic tests may affect the environment in case unwanted traits are passed on to other plants of the same species. Therefore, environmentalists play the task of ensuring that adequate measures are taken to avoid genetic modifications of Arabidopsis thaliana plants that can affect their existence and role in the surrounding (Frese et al., 2016). For example, some gene typing and modifications may result in the death of the entire species due to genetic incompatibility. As a result, the species of that plant is rendered extinct. Thus, environmentalists play a role of safeguarding the existence of such plants including Arabidopsis thaliana. Since environmentalists are learned, they possess knowledge about gene modification and how genetically modified organisms behave. As such, they can determine if the modified species of Arabidopsis thaliana will be beneficial or disastrous to the environment.
Potential Unintended Consequences from the Research Project
The research project was intended to come up with species of Arabidopsis thaliana that can grow well in the changing environment. However, the outcomes of the CRISPR-Cas9 technique may not be as expected. Firstly, the genetically modified plants may be incompatible with the climate and fail to grow. As such, the task of the environmentalists will be compromised. Also, the modified crops may mutate and end up having undesirable characteristics which can render them unsuitable for human consumption. In such cases, farmers will get a loss since all their efforts of farming to get benefits will end up being useless.
Bortesi, L., & Fischer, R. (2015). The CRISPR/Cas9 system for plant genome editing and beyond. Biotechnology Advances, 33(1), 41-52.
Frese, L., Palmé, A., Neuhaus, G., Bülow, L., Maxted, N., Poulsen, G., & Kik, C. (2016). On the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in Europe: a stakeholder analysis. Enhancing crop gene pool use, capturing wild relative and landrace diversity for crop improvement. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK, 388-400.
Niemiec, E., & Howard, H. C. (2016). Ethical issues in consumer genome sequencing: Use of consumers’ samples and data. Applied & translational genomics, 8, 23-30.
Polstein, L. R., & Gersbach, C. A. (2015). A light-inducible CRISPR-Cas9 system for control of endogenous gene activation. Nature chemical biology, 11(3), 198.