DNA and Genetic Editing
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“Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD’ ” (Genesis 4:1 NASB).
Humans start as a tiny little ball about the size of a period on a printed page. Coiled inside that tiny ball is over six feet of DNA, containing all of the characteristics of that human being (height, skin color, etc.). DNA is truly the star of heredity. It has even appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Research into DNA dates back to the 19th century when Friedrich Miescher, in 1869, identified “nucleic acid” in human white blood cells. This later was named deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Others researched its components and determined that while DNA differed in each species, it always maintained consistent properties. In 1953, two scientists, James Watson and Francis Crick identified the key element within DNA (a three-dimensional double helix) that led to a quantum leap in discovery and application of DNA technology. Fifty years later, researchers completed the Human Genome Project, which set out to sequence the more than 3 billion letters in human genetic code.
Since then, many applications of DNA have been developed. One of the most useful is DNA typing, a procedure in which extracted DNA obtained from an individual can be analyzed to generate a DNA “profile.” This profile is unique to every person with the exception of that derived from identical twins. DNA profiling is used in countries such as the USA, Australia, Germany, and Canada to verify the source of a piece of tissue, blood, hair, bits of flesh, bone, teeth, or other part of the body. For example, the burial location of Richard III, one of the most famous kings of England, was unknown until a decomposed body was discovered in a parking lot in Leicester, England. The remains showed evidence of battle wounds and scoliosis, but scientists could not verify that the skeleton was from Richard III until DNA extracted from the bones was matched to Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of the king’s sister. Other uses of DNA typing include disputed heritage and parentage cases; criminal investigations; identification of mass disaster victims; verifying the identity of human cancer cell lines; determining whether a biological material is of human origin; and studying the genetic ancestry of human populations.
In December, 2015, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences declared that altering early embryos as part of careful laboratory research should be allowed. Experiments are now under way on populations of animals and plants which could genetically alter subjects and wipe out disease-carrying insects. For example, a California team has hatched malaria-resistant mosquitoes which can spread their new protective gene to other mosquitoes.
Earlier this year, Great Britain’s Parliament went a step further and allowed researchers to edit the genes of human embryos in order to unravel the mysteries of early-stage development. This human genome editing allows scientists to alter the DNA of embryos much like a computer cut-and-paste program. Researchers hope to find answers for treatment or elimination of inherited disease.
While scientists have long been able to identify defective genes, repairing them has been very difficult. With a new technique, developed through the Human Genome Project, known as CRISPR-Cas9, molecular tools simplify repair and/or replacement of defective genes. With this tool, animals have been implanted with humanlike disorders such as sickle cells, or faulty blood-producing cells and successfully treated genetically. British doctors recently treated a one-year old baby with leukemia by replacing damaged cells with donated immune cells that could resist the virus.
Researchers expect eventually to alter genes in a way that will completely prevent inherited disease.
Adamic Inheritance Not Identifiable
Death is inevitable but exactly why this is so is not obvious to human researchers. Telomeres, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces, are an essential part of human cells that determine how our cells age. Precisely how and why aging takes place is not understood. Hearts that beat perfectly billions of times begin to run down. Joints that withstood decades of rugged activity start to creak. Brains shrink, spines curve, eyes fail, hearing goes, organs become cancerous, bones begin to crumble and memory fails.
Only the Bible provides an answer to this mystery of death in the Genesis account of the fall of man into sin. Satan, operating through the serpent, told Eve that partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would bring wisdom, not death: “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened” (Genesis 3:4,5 NAS). Jehovah had said that the penalty for disobedience — partaking of the forbidden fruit, whatever that might have been — would bring the cessation of life. “In the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17 NAS). The testimony of the entire Bible is consistent with this original statement of the penalty for disobedience or sin. “The wages of sin is death,” declares Paul (Romans 6:23).
In Genesis 2:7 we are told that “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” After the transgression of this originally perfect pair, God said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis. 3:19). David makes an emphatic declaration as to the condition of those who return to the dust, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (Psalms 146:4).
No matter how much is done to extend this life through science, nothing can halt the eventual end. Only the Biblical promise of a resurrection of the dead gives hope for opportunity of life without end. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The penalty of death which fell upon Adam and Eve, and subsequently all of mankind, would be lasting but for the fact that divine love provided for man’s redemption through Jesus, who came to be the Redeemer and Savior of the world.
Apostle Paul gives a clue as to when this resurrection will take place and death will no longer occur in his description of the resurrection of faithful Christians: “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:53-56 NASB).
The work of the present age in the divine plan has been the selection and preparation of those who are to live and reign in heaven with Christ as immortal, divine beings. When this work is completed, then the promises of God to mankind in general will begin to be fulfilled. Blessings will be poured out on all mankind through the agencies of Christ’s kingdom.
Isaiah 25:6-9 and Revelation 21:3,4 describe that time of blessing when death will be destroyed, and when tears will be wiped from all faces. It is the time of Christ’s kingdom, the kingdom which is to reign until even death is destroyed. And when God’s promises are completely fulfilled, the entire earth will be one vast paradise of peace and joy and life. Then the “ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10). Then the desire for a life without end will be realized in the earthly home which God created for his human children.
Categories: 2016 Issues, 2016-May/June