Scientists make breakthroughs large and small all the time. But some are more important than others, and this breakthrough in genetic engineering is pretty far up there.
Essentially, scientists built a synthetic eukaryotic chromosome, one of the building blocks of life, yanked out the original, and inserted it into a lifeform. Furthermore, that lifeform lived normally and passed that chromosome onto its offspring.
OK, so the lifeform in question was brewer’s yeast, but this is still a big deal. Eukaryotic chromosomes are found in plants and animals, and having working ones has a whole host of staggering implications.
Imagine, for a moment, that we had the ability to simply delete genetic disorders through genetic engineering. That instead of those diseases being an inevitable fate for our children, we could undergo therapy and guarantee those diseases were not passed on. Cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, sickle-cell anemia, Tay-Sachs… all gone as if they never existed.
We are a long, long way away from this being the day-to-day realty. That will take decades at the outside, as scientific teams have to prove it works on plants, then animals, and then, somehow, engage in human testing. It seems unlikely that human testing in particular won’t be fraught with serious ethical concerns. And it’s also just one implication of a move that has enormous ones in industries far beyond just medicine. It puts us closer to the most literal term “artificial life”, and will have enormous implications as we inch closer to this being a common technology.
But nonetheless, it’s a truly amazing achievement. And it’s a reminder that as a species we’re capable of incredible things.