Tomorrow, Jan. 25, biology professor Dr. Kimberly Lyle-Ippolito will be delivering the first lecture in this year’s Science and Engineering Lecture Series.
She will be speaking about CRISPR, a new and controversial technique in molecular biology that allows cells to be genetically modified.
“It is being used to edit human embryos,” said Lyle-Ippolito. “They add this to a human embryo in a dish, and it will change the genetic makeup of the embryo. “They can actually correct genetic problems, fix cystic fibrosis and other diseases, or they can actually add things like height or blue eyes,” she said. “They’ve been growing that in the lab.”
Currently, it is illegal to implant these embryos into people.
“Right now, the limit is 14 days,” she said. “You can grow these embryos up to the 14-day stage in the test tube and then you have to kill them.”
Lyle-Ippolito, whose bias is “strongly pro-life,” plans to introduce those in attendance to CRISPR—what it is, how it works and what its potential is—and then lay out the ethical implications that need to be discussed.
“Killing the embryos upsets me,” she said. “But we are now at the point where we can actually edit human embryos. Now, we are not necessarily at the point where it is easy, or that there are no ill-effects or problems with it. They did something like 62 embryos for this cardiomyopathy genetic disease and three or four of them corrected. I don’t know what happened with the rest of the embryos. It’s not a guaranteed kind of treatment, but that may just be the bugs need to be worked out.”
Working out the bugs with CRISPR may be easier said than done.
“The discoverer [of CRISPR] had a talk in which she said, ‘You know, I think we need to place a moratorium on this until we decide what are the ethical issues involved in editing human embryos. We need to discuss this and decide as a society what is acceptable and what is not,’” Lyle-Ippolito said.
“As with human embryonic stem cell research, the only power the government has is to withdraw funding,” she said. “You can’t use federal funding to do this. She is talking about everybody agreeing that we’re not going to do this, we’re not going to implant these cells and bring out designer babies, or maybe we are. I think that discussion needs to happen.”
Lyle-Ippolito will deliver her lecture at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 25 in Decker 133. After the lecture, there will be time for a question and answer session.
The rest of the lecture series is scheduled to take place with one lecture per month through April.
Monday, Feb. 19:
Professor Michael Bailey
“Human anatomy can be fun: What you might not know about your body!”
Monday, March 19:
Dr. Kyung Shin Kang
“How can engineering technologies rebuild your body? The $6 million question.”
Monday, April 16:
Dr. Dan Ippolito
“Earthkeeping and endangered biodiversity: A Christian perspective.”