1.Editing ourselves (The Hindu)

2.Add science to taste (The Indian Express)

1.Editing ourselves (The Hindu) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the research that raises the prospect of gene editing, which will also renew ethical concerns. (GS paper III)

Overview 

  • Scientists for the first time showed groundbreaking research by successfully managed to edit genes in a human embryo to repair a genetic mutation, fuelling hopes that such procedures may one day be available outside laboratory conditions.
  • While none of the research so far has created babies from modified embryos, a move that would be illegal in many countries, however the work represents a milestone in scientists’ efforts to master the technique and brings the prospect of human clinical trials one step closer.
  • But the achievement is also an example of human genetic engineering, once feared and unthinkable, and is sure to renew ethical concerns that some might try to design babies with certain traits, like greater intelligence or athleticism. 

Gene editing

  • Gene editing or genome editing is the insertion, deletion or replacement of DNA at a specific site in the genome of an organism or cell. It is usually achieved in the lab using engineered nucleases also known as molecular scissors.
  • CRISPR or CRISPR Cas9 is commonly used to refer to a revolutionary genome editing technology that enables efficient and precise genomic modifications in a wide variety of organisms and tissues.
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat or CRISPR was identified in a prokaryotic defence system. CRISPR are sections of genetic code containing short repetitions of base sequences followed by spacer DNA segments.

New research

  • According to the ‘Nature’ journal, scientists fixed a mutation that thickens the heart muscle, a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The cardiac disease causes sudden death in otherwise healthy young athletes and affects about one in 500 people overall.
  • It is caused by a mutation in a particular gene and a child will suffer from the condition even if it inherits only one copy of the mutated gene. Correcting the mutation in the gene would not only ensure that the child is healthy but it would also prevent the mutation from being passed on to future generations.
  • In an attempt to remove the small portion of mutation, the researchers injected sperm of a man affected by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and the gene-editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9 that cuts the DNA near the position of the mutation, into the egg at the same time.
  • While several diseases can potentially be prevented by using this technique, including some cancers, the announcement has also revived fears about designer babies being within the realm of possibility.
  • With the new research to repair a genetic mutation in an embryo, the ethical debate is again revived however every advancement in reproductive health, starting from in vitro fertilisation to the recent birth of a baby through the “three parent” technique for mitochondria-related disease, has initially been mired in controversy but has ultimately come to stay. In the same way, the use of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool when proven safe for preventing certain hereditary disease-causing mutations from being passed on to the child should be allowed, especially when no other treatment is available.

Way ahead

  • The research will ultimately aim at helping families plagued by genetic diseases. The new experiment used a powerful new gene-editing technique to correct a genetic defect behind a heart disorder that can cause seemingly healthy young people to suddenly die from heart failure.
  • One major concern is safety to a developing embryo whether genetically modified human embryos would indeed produce healthy babies. But on a broader level, any changes made in the DNA of an embryo would be passed down for generations. That raises fears that any mistakes in the editing that inadvertently caused new diseases could become a permanent part of that family’s genetic blueprint.

Question– How gene editing is a double edged sword and holds prospects for ethical crisis?

2.Add science to taste (The Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the need to engage education with science. (GS paper III)

Overview 

  • India is fast becoming a major economic power in the world today. And if its growth trend continues for some more years, it would soon be playing a major role in the world economy along with China. This will be a major cause of attraction for many international students. Moreover, India’s successful stint with democracy has also been a major magnetic force for scholars around the world.
  • India’s education system has been at the center of vociferous debate for several years now. Despite the presence of the prestigious IITs and IIMs, Indian educational institutions and universities have had a remarkably poor run when it comes to global institutional rankings.
  • Various top universities are redefining engineering education; Indian higher education is also in a dire need to improve the quality and transparency of its higher education institutions on students, economy, and society. The failure of Indian education system is stark when seen in light of the fact that thousands of students every year go abroad for college education.

Indian universities and Science

  • To ensure that Science will influence policy is to encourage people to appreciate and engage with science. That can only happen through education, communication, and ties of mutual respect between scientists and their communities, there is need to take science out of the labs and journals and share it with the world.
  • Some of the most eminent institutions in India like IISc, the IITs, and IISERs are headed by distinguished academicians, scientists and administrators. The conduct of science and technology (S&T) in the country is directly and indirectly influenced by the methods, topics of research and notions of rigour that these institutions practise.
  • In India, there is great disconnect between the centrally funded institutions, the state universities and ground reality. In the sciences, we see a narrow focus on academic research with little relevance, an over-supply of post-graduates and few openings other than in academics.
  • India is fastest growing economy but still there are no advancement in improving the basic necessities of citizens, there are age-old practices of delivery, based on outdated knowledge and governance which is failing. Thus there is need to have advancement in development agenda like in the sectors of roads, electricity, water. We have also failed to formalise these sectors so as to bring out the key processes and problems, ways of measurement.
  • There is absence of the agenda in our curricula, research and modes of engagement. We have not recognised these sectors as essentially engineering and scientific services, but which require an inter-disciplinary and field-oriented methodology within a regional context.
  • Engagement with the development agenda has always been part of research and training within universities in the West. It was only in 1958 that the MIT dismantled the Department of Sanitation Engineering. Today, various top universities are redefining engineering education, for instance, “Engineering+X” at University of Southern California, or Development Engineering at UC Berkeley, and other innovative UG programmes at several universities.
  • We can also initiate the formalisation of the development agenda and reclaim it as an area of interest for the science and technology establishment. It is to assert that these areas are indeed amenable to scientific rigour and rational argument in broader society. It will be seen as a positive step to broaden and deepen science and technology and strengthen our role in it, and also to provide jobs in the form of new professions.
  • This will also provide much needed support to state agencies who work in very adverse conditions. It will infuse new energy into research by bringing new methods, problems and a much-needed focus on sustainability.
  • Such a decentralisation of S&T may redefine school-level science as broad enough to incorporate the immediate environment as worthy of study, documentation and analysis. It will cause a deepening of scientific temper which will help people negotiate for themselves a better deal in the market and society.

Way ahead

  • The move to decentralise science will show that modern science has a method and outcomes that are not limited to passing entrance exams or publishing papers. There is need to look at the collapse of higher education closely otherwise it will we be leading to a new brain drain but a collapse of aspirations. 
  • We need educational institutions that not only create skilled human resource but also boosts indigenous research and development, power the country’s intellectual and entrepreneurial leadership, and instil scientific thinking among the masses. 
  • We need to adopt to create a global culture to have world-class educational institutions, borrow ideas in pedagogy from the best institutions around the world and move from a top-down mode of education to a more organic culture of learning.

Question– Contemplating science with education holds the key for innovative advancements in learning outcomes. Comment.