3 June 2023
If you could mutate your DNA, could you get super strength?
If you could change your genes, could you develop a genius intellect?
You can’t give yourself superpowers, but advancements in genetic technology are making these kinds of questions less fantastical.
Geneticist Phillip Batterham said gene editing techniques could potentially revolutionise treatment of some diseases, but there were risks worth being aware of.
In his own research, Dr Batterham’s lab has routinely used the CRISPR gene editing technology to introduce DNA mutations in flies in research directed at understanding the impact of insecticides on insects.
Dr Batterham, who will speak at ISCAST’s upcoming Scientific and Spiritual Human conference, said people of faith, agnostics and atheists had similar concerns about the ramifications of gene editing.
He said Christians and atheists shared fears that gene editing would interfere with nature or destroy the mystery of life.
“In essence they are asking a question that amounts to ‘Are you playing God?’” he said.
ISCAST executive director the Reverend Dr Chris Mulherin compared developments in gene editing technology to the discovery of nuclear fission.
“We discovered that E = MC2 and we could find enormous energy from fusion and fission,” he said. “And then we went on to make bombs.”
Dr Mulherin said new technology had allowed geneticists to uncover amazing possibilities, but those possibilities required careful ethical consideration.
He said scientific discoveries often raised questions around what it meant to be human, and spirituality could offer a valuable perspective.
Dr Batterham said discussions about science and spirituality had the ability to connect those with differing viewpoints.
“People can have different perspectives but come to the same conclusions,” he said. “It’s about finding the common ground.”
The ISCAST Scientific and Spiritual Human conference takes place 22 July. More information can be found on the ISCAST website.