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CRISPR Made Simple

When Should We Use CRISPR?

In this section of CRISPR Made Simple, we consider ways CRISPR could be used, and how it should be used. 

  • Key Takeaways

    Ethics means thinking about right and wrong. How should we use CRISPR? This is an ethics questions that different people will have different answers to. 

  • Vocabulary


What is ethics?

Ethics means thinking about whether things we do are good or bad and right or wrong. There are many things we can do, but should we do them all? This is a question of ethics.

CRISPR gene editing lets scientists make all kinds of changes in ways we couldn’t just 10 years ago. And as scientists continue to develop the technology, even more things will be possible. This brings up a lot of ethics questions! People may have different opinions about ethics based on their own interests, beliefs, and culture. 

Let’s use examples to think about ethics! There are no right or wrong answers to the questions below – they're for thinking through what matters to you and how different choices affect different people.

Case study 1: Making muscles stronger

Imagine that scientists come up with a way to use gene editing to make muscles stronger.

Diego has a muscle disease that makes walking really tough. He wants to get the treatment because it might help him walk and run again. 

Lucy competes in swim meets, but she’s a little small for her age and never comes in first place. She wants to get the treatment so she can get stronger and win competitions. 

Do you think Diego should be able to get the treatment? Do you think Lucy should be able to get the treatment? Why or why not?

Case study 2: Making micro pigs

Imagine scientists come up with a way to use gene editing that could make pigs that only grow up to be the size of a mouse. Ali owns a pet shop and wants to sell micro pigs. They’ll be really cute and much easier to keep in the home and take care of than a big farm pig, so they will probably be really popular pets. 

Darnell is a park ranger. He already has problems with wild pigs destroying habitats for rare plants and animals, and is worried that micro pigs will escape into the wild. If they get out, they might be really hard to catch and who knows what they will do to the environment!

Do you think it’s a good idea for scientists to make micro pigs? Why or why not? 

Who gets to decide?

Many people play roles in deciding how we use genetic technologies. Scientists decide when they choose what to study and what technologies to create. Groups that fund scientists decide which programs to give money to. Ethicists — people whose job it is to study ethics — can help decide whether a clinical trial can be done. Government policymakers make rules about using technology, too. Usually this involves:  

  • Consulting with scientists and other experts to make sure they have all the facts 
  • Asking for input from people who will be directly affected by policies
  • Asking for opinions from the public 

If you want to tell policymakers what you think, you can call or send a letter or email to your government representatives. 

Sometimes, there is no single right answer or best policy. Different people, different cultures, and different countries may come up with different answers to ethical questions, and different policies about using gene editing tools like CRISPR. Because gene editing is still such a new idea, people around the world are working through these questions right now. We hope that CRISPR Made Simple will help you be part of this important conversation!

Illustration use and attribution

The illustrations for CRISPR Made Simple are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, and can be used and adapted for non-commercial, educational purposes. ALL modifications and uses must follow the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.