Gene editing has gained a lot of popularity in previous years, promising new approaches to treat human diseases in upcoming years. However, philanthropist Bill Gates has warned about the technology, saying that it could raise ‘ethical questions’.
Gates recently wrote a blog post of his year wrap-up in which he talked about some serious issues, one of which being gene editing which he warned ‘could make inequity worse especially if it is available only for wealthy people’.
Gene editing is what allows scientists to make enormous changes to a person’s DNA, specifically to fix a defective gene. Ethical concerns have always been there, but grew more after recently a Chinese scientist came under attack when he claimed to create the first genetically edited babies. His work raised eyebrows after researchers called it concerning and unethical since it would allow genetic changes to be passes down to other generations.
Gates' warning seemed to have been keeping in view the recent issue. Gates said that he agreed that the scientist’s work went too far, but the good thing is that it encourages people to learn and talk about gene editing. “This might be the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.”
“The ethical questions are enormous. Gene editing is generating a ton of optimism for treating and curing diseases, including some that our foundation works on. But the technology could make inequity worse, especially if it is available only for wealthy people.”
He further mentioned that it is surprising how these issues have not gathered much attention from the general public. Comparing it with artificial intelligence, Gates stated, “Today, AI is the subject of vigorous debate. Gene editing deserves at least as much of the spotlight as AI.”
Apart from gene editing, Gates also mentioned about progression in ways to stop Alzheimer’s disease, efforts done to eradicate polio, how renewable energy is working and that issue of emissions need to be solved. He also talked about the global epidemic that is most likely to kill people, most probably in the form of flu and how we need to pay attention to it. He concluded the letter by talking about his New Year’s resolutions of balancing between privacy and information and the use of technology in education.