O:H header
Welcome to GMO 2.0, a new generation of genetic modification that promises even more than the previous GM technologies. Scientists using the "second generation" of genetic manipulation technology have used gene-editing to alter the DNA of breed of cattle so that they supposedly do not grow horns. At around the same time another group of scientists claim to have injected human cells into monkeys to create chimeras, who they say have increased intelligence. Earlier this year a group of Chinese researchers claimed to have deliberately gene-edited monkey clones with a mental disturbance.

Most will remember the Chinese scientist last year who shocked the world claiming to have genetically modified human embryos to be immune to HIV infection. What was shocking was not the science, which many experts claimed was underwhelming and sloppy, but the simple fact that he had undertaken this endeavor under the radar.

Few people realized then, but this incident has brought it home, that all this is taking place almost entirely without any serious health and safety regulation, nor have the ethical implications been fully explored. GMO 2.0 makes the process of genetic modification much simpler and, as a result, much more in reach for those with less training and understanding. It really seems like we're on the precipice of home genetic modification kits, designer babies and all the other horror stories science fiction has been warning us of for decades.

Join us on this episode of Objective:Health as we discuss the implications of this new gene tech. Do we really want to be on this train?

And stay tuned for Zoya's Pet Health Segment as she tells us all about the ups and downs of pet hedgehogs.

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Running Time: 01:08:29

Download: MP3 — 62.3 MB

Here's the transcript of the show:

Erica: Hello and welcome to the Objective: Health show. I am your host today, Erica and joining me in our virtual studio are Doug, Elliot, Tiffany and Damian in the background.

All: Hellos.

Erica: So today we're going to talk about gene editing or gene tech or GMO 2.0. There's a lot of different names for this type of technology that has been in the works for probably a lot longer than all of us are aware of, but at least since 2015. It's getting significant attention because it is not only moving from plants to animals and even humans. So it's kind of like letting the genie out of the bottle. Of course there's a lot in science that has been written about it being this great revolutionary technology that's going to change the world and offer benefits but there's also some serious concerns.

So for those who don't know what genetic editing is or what's sometimes referred to as CRISPR cas9 or just CRISPR technology, it was developed in 2013 and then in 2015 one of the geneticists that created it came out. Her name is Jennifer Doudna and she presented what is known as this CRISPR cas9 tech and it's an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. {laughter}

Tiffany: Whatever that means!

Erica: It's a gene editing platform using bacterially-driven proteins and that's where the cas9 portion of that whole saying is. It's used to target and break down DNA and they claim that it's precise in snipping out unwanted elements.

Tiffany: So this differs from the traditional GMO-type editing, like when we think of somebody or a scientist engineering a tomato by inserting something from a different plant or an animal into it to keep the tomato from turning brown or whatever? So CRISPR is different from that, right, in that they just insert or delete genes from whatever being or entity that they're fiddling with versus introducing new material from a different species?

Erica: Yeah. That's why they're calling it GMO 2.0 because they're saying it's safer and more precise and therein is the rub. We do have a short video for our viewers that may explain it better than I can. I'm not a geneticist, a biologist nor a chemist. Do you want to play that video Damian so our viewers can get just a small idea of what this technology is?

Damian: Yup.

Video: So CRISPR is basically a group of molecules that can edit DNA. You can basically fine tune them to just go after any piece of DNA you want. They can cut that DNA and then you can actually insert a different piece of DNA in its place. So this could allow you, for example, to fix a defective gene, if somebody has cystic fibrosis, for example.

In theory, you could use CRISPR to repair the gene that's faulty in them and then they would not suffer from cystic fibrosis any longer. And also against things like cancer because you can actually take people's own immune cells and edit their genes so that they can recognize and attack cancer cells. It's different from how GMOs are often created where you're taking an existing gene from another species and you're inserting it into another species. In this case you can just say, "You know, this particular piece of DNA, I don't like it so much. I just want to change it a little bit" and you can make that precise change and CRISPR actually lets you make many, many, many different changes to an organism's DNA so you can create a whole suite of changes and potentially radically change that organism.

Doug: Well that sounds nice. {laughter}

Tiffany: It sounds so sanitary.

Doug: Yeah. Very simple. You just take out the part you don't like. "I don't like this gene. I think I'm going to replace it with something else."

Tiffany: My question is how do they know so well what these individual alleles or whatever the smallest portion of a gene is, how do they even know with such certainty, what they are and where they are and how to find them and etc.?

Doug: I think that's one of the big issues with this because they're still discovering all that kind of stuff. I've read all kinds of different stuff about them learning this and learning that and it seems like it's too early to be messing with it in this way. Maybe in the lab, "Okay, let's just see what happens if we do this" and play around with it a little bit and say, "Oh, look, this goat grew legs coming out of its horn spot" or something. {laughter} But it just seems like there is so much unknown at this point. They're tinkering with individual genes because they think this gene does this. But they're finding out all the time that, "Oh, this gene doesn't just to this, it also does this, this and this" and it's responsible for all these downstream effects.

So I think they're really playing with fire. I think they don't know what they're doing. That's my view on the entire biotechnology industry. All the things that they're putting out there, they have no idea what they're doing.

Tiffany: Yet if you were one of these top genetic researchers I think that probably one of the ways that they know as little as they do know, which is still more than the average person, one of those ways is by just getting in the lab and tinkering with stuff and I'm pretty sure that they were doing this well before 2015, once this CRISPR technology burst on the scene. So there's probably labs all over the world where there's just scientists taking genes out and putting genes in and just experimenting and then discovering by accident, something.

Doug: Yeah.

Elliot: What tends to be the case with these kinds of things is that they become a little bit trigger-happy and over-excited to get it to the public. It's like vaccines. It'll go through the minimum amount of human trials and then they'll just get it onto the market. This smells a bit like that. It has that kind of taste to it. It's like, "Oh, okay. We have this amazing new technology which we don't really know much about and we're still experimenting with, but it could cure cystic fibrosis, so very soon we're going to get it on the market and it's going to cure all of these people".

When you present it like that, that's really cool, but as Doug said, all of these genes and stuff they probably have so many different functions to them that scientists don't even know yet. Also, we don't know the consequences of taking out a gene and then putting back in something else. If you put in something else, is it just the gene which is fulfilling a function or is it that gene in conjunction with the entire system? Is it the gene's interaction with other things like other proteins? Everything in the human body, the whole information field system as a whole is working in conjunction and when you mess around with that real tight-knit system, just because it would make sense theoretically, how do you know that's actually going to work in real life? Because real life isn't a lab experiment. There's just millions and trillions of different interactions in real life which you can't control for which you can control for in a lab, in a petri dish and human beings aren't petri dishes.

So it seems that there are so many potential things that maybe are being considered, but the way that he just put that, it would be great if you could help someone with cystic fibrosis, but is it going to be as simple as just taking out a gene?

Tiffany: Well like with vaccines, they always dangle that carrot of curing some diseases that human beings suffer from and like vaccines and the disastrous repercussions that they've caused all over the world, it will probably be the same thing with CRISPR technology. But saying that it'll cure a bunch of diseases is how they actually get their funding or they garner public support because people will basically do almost anything to be healthy. If you're suffering from some chronic disease, especially if it's a genetic disease and there's not much you can do for it, you'll hold out hope for almost anything.

Erica: Well I think that's why they start with agriculture initially so they can start tinkering. We've seen this with GMOs. They were introduced in 1996 I believe and the whole messy process of using a gene gun and blasting the genetics of the seed to fill it with Roundup or whatever and now we're 25 years in and they're starting to find all of these issues with gut reactions and basically wreaking havoc. So I feel like at least in the agricultural world a lot of people are calling this GMOs 2.0 because they're not using that kind of sloppy genetic modification, they're claiming time and again - you can read the articles - they keep saying it's precise, it's precise, it's precise. And just like Elliot was suggesting, how do you know if you don't have 30 years of experience on the effects?

So in agriculture they've started with the apple. So they use that CRISPR cas9 technology to modify an apple so that it doesn't turn brown when you cut it open. So you could package it and sell it and it would not turn brown? Would you want to eat an apple that doesn't turn brown but may still be going through the whole fermentation process? You just don't know it because you don't see it? And they've done the same with mushrooms too. In the US people in the biotech world are supporting it because they're saying it will not need to be labeled. Even the US Department of Agriculture are saying that these need no special regulations because they haven't actually inserted anything, they've just removed those unwanted aspects, like the browning of fruits and vegetables.

But that to me is a huge red flag. If anyone's had food poisoning they know. So there's a picture that Damian just put up of a conventional apple and then the Arctic apple.

Tiffany: What's so bad about the conventional apple? That looks perfectly fine to me!

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: It's a little brown. {laughter}

Tiffany: It's the other apple that looks fake and phony.

Doug: That's one thing that I've noticed about all this gene editing and genetic modification kind of stuff. The problems that they seem to be trying to solve are really not problems or they don't really seem like extreme problems to me, like the idea of that browning of the apple. We're going to get into the animal stuff later on, but specifically if you just look at that, the whole apple turning brown thing, are people not buying apples because they turn brown. "I was going to buy an apple because I really want an apple right now but it's going to turn brown."

Tiffany: People are outside of their grocery stores protesting brown apples. {laughter}

Doug: Exactly.

Tiffany: Something has to be done!! {laughter} My apple is turning brown!

Doug: When will it end.

Tiffany: My suffering!

Doug: You just see it again and again, all the different things that they're coming up with. A lot of times it's like, "That's not helpful." You're not going to save humanity by having a non-browning apple.

Erica: Well one of the things to look into in all of this is who's funding this kind of research. One of the biggest funders is DARPA. For our listeners who may not know who they are, basically it's American defense...

Doug: It stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Erica: Yeah.

Doug: And they're up to some pretty scary stuff actually, the whole gene drive thing. I don't know a lot about it but it's a technology that's able to not only put new genetic material in but spread it throughout the population as quickly as possible. It's almost like real time modification of entire species as opposed to dealing with individuals. They've got it at a point now where they say they can get genetic material to 99% of the population within 10 generations.

Tiffany: So they're actually not just modifying individuals, they're making sure their offspring has whatever mutation or change they initiated.

Doug: Yeah.

Tiffany: Which is scary.

Doug: It's really scary, especially when you consider that it's DARPA doing it and you know that they're not trying to turn everybody into X-Men or something like that. You know that they're looking at "Well if we wanted to take out a country as quickly as possible and all of the citizens of that country, how could we do it? Ah-ha! Here's a way!" Or something along those lines. Some kind of plague or something like that. You know that they're up to no good.

Erica: Well the scientist that actually helped develop that gene drive that you're talking about Doug, was a Harvard biologist named Kevin Esvelt and he publicly warned that the development of gene editing in conjunction with these gene drives has alarming potential to go awry and he notes how often CRISPR messes up and the likelihood of protective mutations arising making even benign gene drives aggressive. Then he stresses, "Just a few engineered organisms could irrevocably alter an entire ecosystem.

Doug: Again, I just get the impression that they don't know what they're doing.

Tiffany: No.

Doug: They don't understand the consequences or they don't care. That's the other possibility too.

Tiffany: If you consider all of the medications that have been produced over the last 75 years or so and not one of them is side-effect free, yet you still have the power as a consumer to stop taking that medication. Let's say you had your genes altered in some way. You can't go back in and un-alter that gene and un-alter the effects that it has caused.

Doug: No, it's true. And when you consider all the different things that can go wrong with CRISPR too, they keep on talking about how it's very precise, it's very accurate, but the fact of the matter is that stuff goes wrong with it all the time. All kinds of unintended things happen which is why there's still all this research happening on it. You see all these papers with titles like Improving CRISPR cas9 Nuclei Specificity Using Truncated Guide RNAs. I just read that by the way, I didn't just come up with that off the top of my head. {laughter} But you know what I mean? They're saying, "Improving CRISPR" and "what we can do and how we can keep on working it", tweaks and things like that. So obviously it's not perfect and there are lots of examples of where it has gone wrong. I just lost the thing that I was going to talk about. Anyway, it goes horribly wrong at points.

Erica: I have a good visual that I could share her. Before I do, there's a gentleman, Jonathan Latham and he's written extensively about CRISPR technology and the myths that go along with it. The number one myth that he addresses is that current genome editing technologies are not error-prone. That's a big myth and he scientifically explains it. I won't go into the scientific explanation, but you can read about it.

Myth number two is that precision equals control. He gives a really good description. He says, "Suppose as a non-Chinese speaker I were to precisely remove from a Chinese text one character, one line or one page. I would have 100% precision but zero control over the change in the meaning. Precision therefore is only as useful as the understanding that underlies it and surely no DNA biologist would propose we understand DNA or why else are we studying it?"

Tiffany: Good point.

Doug: Yeah, that is a good point and it is good to have somebody actually admit, "No, we don't have a perfect understanding of DNA." It's like somebody who has a little bit of experience with cars and then lifts up the hood and starts yanking wires out {laughter} and connecting tubes to different places and saying, "I wonder what will happen if I put water in this thing" or "What happens if I put the gas in this other container instead of in the gas tank?" They really have a very rudimentary understanding of this stuff and they're just playing around. They're playing god. I think they're on an ego trip.

Tiffany: Yeah. There was a research study they did on these genetically blind mice and they used the CRISPR cas9 technology to cure the mice's blindness and they ran some tests afterward and after the procedure they found that along with the gene that they edited for the blindness there were more than 100 other deletions and insertions and more than 1,500 nucleotide mutations.

Doug: Wow.

Tiffany: So just one little change - I'm sure they thought they were being ultra-precise, yay, this mouse can see now. Of course with all these studies or articles and things that we read about these experiments, you only get a snapshot in time of what happened. There's never any follow up like, "five months later these mice went on a rampage in the lab and shot up all the scientists or something {laughter}. You never hear any follow up about what happened with these experiments. It's just one little focus on that period of time and that's all you get.

Doug: In that same article that Erica was talking about by Jonathan Latham, the second myth that he addresses is that precision equals control. I think this is a really important point because he's saying that even if this was very precise, the fact that they don't understand it is one of the things that is leading to all these other things. He gives an example. He says, "Suppose as a non-Chinese speaker I were to precisely remove from a Chinese text one character, one line or one page. I would have 100% precision but zero control over the change in the meaning. Precision therefore is only as useful as the understanding that underlies it and surely..." - Oh, you already read this, didn't you Erica? {laughter} Sorry guys. It's too bad we don't do any post-editing on the show. That's embarrassing. Sorry.

Erica: But I do think that's a really good example because for those of us who are not super science-minded, you can fall into the rabbit hole of this technology and like Tiffany was saying, you might think, "I can eliminate things in my family or we could do all these great things with this" but to read that little description helps you get an idea that sure, you can be precise with moving stuff, but again it's those unintended consequences that happen.

Back to the agriculture thing, that's why I think they start with agriculture, especially in the US because they can release it into the environment and find out what happens without having to do safety testing. They can just say, "Oh, it's totally safe." How are they really going to know what the unintended consequences are?

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: I agree with you. I don't have a problem with guys tinkering in the lab but once you use people as guinea pigs, then there's some problems for sure.

Doug: Absolutely. I think that the way that it gets sold to people is with all this amazing talk of all the amazing things that it's going to be able to do, all these diseases they'll be able to eliminate and famine and feed the entire world on these crops and things like that, but those promises never come to pass. Most of the time, the things that they're doing is making it so that they can patent something and benefit from it in some way. That's just the way science works. You invest all this energy into getting something that's going to have a payout, that you're going to get money off of. So you pursue a drug because the drug is going to eventually pay off. It's going to be a blockbuster drug. Everybody's going to take it and you're going to get money from it, so that's where you invest. It's the same thing with these genetically modified things. Where is somewhere that in the future that we can make money?

So they go into getting a crop and they say, "If we make this drought-resistant rice..." or whatever, or corn, whatever the case may be, "...that's going to sell like gangbusters, so yes, let's invest in that." But really all that ends up coming out of that is stuff that benefits these biotech companies, not the general consumer. So what crops do we have? Ones that produce poison or are resistant to poison and that's basically it. That's what we've got.

I can see the same thing happening when it comes to gene editing people. It's like, "What's really going to pay off here?" And yeah, sure, curing disease, that sort of thing will help but it'll probably be things like choosing your eye colour, your kid's IQ, how attractive they are, those sorts of things. Not exactly things that are going to save the world.

Elliot: They could also be making super soldiers, that kind of stuff. You could have military babies whereby they're grown embryos and they've got the top physical characteristics and everything. But even then, with gene editing, is it going to be possible to make a human being which is invincible? I don't think so. I don't think that gene editing is capable of doing that because I think there was a finite capacity for what human beings are capable of. We came into this world the way that we are for certain reasons I think and there are natural laws to that, unless you want to get into robotic arms and stuff. You might be able to make some tall and muscular military-type babies, but at the end of the day it's not going to change much I don't think.

Doug: I think that's true. I think that what we know about the genome, what we know about genes, we know that they make proteins. Our view on what DNA is and what it can do is already pretty limited. There's only so much you can do by changing proteins around. So yeah, you can find the genetic thing that might make somebody more predisposed to be taller or something like that, but it's not necessarily going to manifest in that way. I guess what I'm saying is that changing the blueprint, you're limited in how much that will actually change the final result, if that makes sense.

Erica: But I think that's why DARPA is involved. I think what you're talking about Elliot, is what they want.

Elliot: Yeah, exactly. I think that's why the main funder of it is the Pentagon, right?

Tiffany: Well I'm sure there are plenty of extreme biohackers out there who would wish to genetically alter themselves so they can become like supermen and perhaps pass those traits on to their offspring. But I think just in general, the whole idea of genetically modifying or bioengineering some things is just extreme cases of wishful thinking. Whether you want to become an X-Man or cure every disease known to man or make the perfect apple or whatever, all of it is wishful thinking. Oh my god, look at that! {picture of gene-edited cow} {laughter} I like meat, but I don't know if I could do that.

Doug: So that's the gene-edited cow, right?

Erica: The hornless cattle, hornless Holstein.

Tiffany: Well the thing about the Holstein cattle is, they can just do selective breeding to get rid of the horns on cattle. You don't have to actually go into the genetic blueprint and tinker with it in order to do that.

Doug: Exactly. Again, coming back to the whole thing about "Are they really doing anything that useful", they picked that maybe because it would be easy or something when really there's zero demand for it. It's like, no, we can do it through breeding.

Damian: There's these too.

Doug: Glowing fish? {laughter}

Damian: There's a cat somewhere as well.

Tiffany: Or muscular beagles. I guess beagles are used in a lot of labs for research and somebody thought it would be a good idea to make Herculean beagles with a whole lot of muscle tone.

Doug: That's crazy.

Tiffany: But I guess there's a certain amount of animal experimentation that people will accept and as long as the animal doesn't come out looking extremely deformed or ugly, then people won't be up in arms. But then when you get to human beings, it's a different story. So I guess this would be a good time to talk about what's-his-name, He Jiankui, the Chinese researcher who thought it was a good idea to conduct a secret research experiment in which he altered the genetics of a pregnant woman and she gave birth to twins. His whole idea was to make sure that the babies that were born were resistant to acquiring HIV.

So in this case the mother was HIV negative, the father was HIV positive and I don't know if he knew this or just failed to take it into account, if you're father has HIV the chances of him transmitting it to the child is very low versus if the mother has HIV. Also I think the gene that he was going for was at the CCR5. He said if he blocked that gene then that would make the babies HIV resistant but HIV is not only dependent on CCR5 activation. There are actually other genes that can cause susceptibility to HIV. Again, he was fighting against something that he didn't really need to.

Doug: Again, it's just crazy. Again, it's a situation where nobody's asking for this. When he actually did this there was a lot of blowback from the scientific community who were saying, "What you've done is extremely irresponsible. There's so many phases that this should go through before you get to the point where you're doing it on babies or humans." Apparently scientists were saying it wasn't even good work. It was very sloppy, that the gene wasn't picked up in all the places that it should have been within the twins. I think one of the heterozygous and the other one is homozygous. It seems like this guy again, just on a power trip, wanted to be the first to do it and just pushed it through regardless of the consequences.

Tiffany: Again, I looked for follow up on those twin girls, Lu-Lu and Na-Na, I think were their pseudonyms and you can't find anything. The only follow up I found on the story was that the researcher ended up getting fired from his university post and that's it.

Doug: Well he says he's going to be following them until they're 18 but the thing is, how do you even know that it's successful? If these twins actually are resistant to HIV, they would then have to purposely have sex with someone with HIV to prove that it actually worked. It's like one of these experiments where you can't actually know that it worked. There's no way to know. And if he's only following them until they're 18, I know the age is getting younger and younger at which kids are having sex, but I'm thinking in China maybe 18 is - I don't know anything about China actually.

Erica: Well I think it's more of an introduction of the concept to people to see how they react to it. I know in a previous show we've talked about it, why did he do it. Maybe it was completely intentional to leak it and make him the guy that does it just to see the ethical concerns that came up, to gauge the response that people have. Are people going to be outraged or are people going to be interested? Because you see them doing this with these animals. Damian showed the cow but they're also genetically modifying goats so they can have more cashmere-like hair. What's the muscular pigs where they make a pig that more muscular and one of the things - and I'm just going by memory from reading the article - was that they didn't bother to consider the fact that these super muscular pigs might not have the specific bone structure to carry that much weight or enough skin. You know what I mean?

I don't know. When they do this stuff on animals you just know that humans are somewhere in the background there. They're just not talking about it. They could make, like Elliot said, a super muscular soldier. "Let's start with a pig because a pig is a good place to start." But they don't take into consideration all the other elements that it would take to keep that muscular pig alive. I think in some of the research they've done, like 95% of them died anyway.

Doug: Oh god!

Tiffany: Well there was a human being who actually died in one of these genetic trials. His name was Jesse Gelsinger. This happened back in 1999. I'm not sure exactly what kind of technology they were using at that time but he had this disorder called ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency. It's rare and it's some kind of disease where you can't eat high protein. So he was subsisting on a low protein diet and he was taking 32 pills a day for medication. I think the University of Pennsylvania researchers wanted to test this treatment they had for babies because this disorder can be fatal. So he volunteered for it. He was a teenager at the time. He knew that it didn't hold out any hope for him but he thought, okay it's for the babies so I'll go ahead and do it.

So they injected him with some corrected genes that were covered in weakened cold virus and he basically had multiple organ failure and he died.

Doug: Oh, really?

Tiffany: Yeah.

Doug: I'd never heard of that before. That's funny.

Erica: Are those pictures real? Sorry to change the subject. Damian just put the pictures up. Go back to that Damian. That is some...

Tiffany: Hellhound. Just imagine that thing chasing you down the street in the future dystopia.

Erica: That's okay because you'll be super muscular too.

Doug: Yeah, they'll have super speed and you'll shoot lightning bolts out of your hands.

Erica: I'm sorry Tiffany. I didn't mean to interrupt.

Tiffany: Well that was the story. So this kid and his family, I'm sure, thought that he was doing something great for humanity and helping the babies and he ended up dying and we still don't have a cure for that ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency disorder.

Doug: I guess that's the question, right? Would you do it...?

Tiffany: No!

Doug: No? Okay, maybe put the question slightly differently. Say you had a child who had a rare genetic condition and they had some sort of therapy with the CRISPR, some ability to replace that gene and cure the disease.

Tiffany: Well I can imagine the draw. No parent wants their child to suffer, but absolutely not! I would even venture to say, "Hell no!!"

Doug: Really?

Tiffany: No. No.

Doug: Wow, you feel that strongly about it.

Tiffany: Yes.

Doug: Interesting.

Erica: I share that sentiment. I do.

Doug: Okay. Elliot, what do you think?

Elliot: Probably would agree with Erica and Tiff.

Doug: Wow. You guys are all hard core.

Tiffany: Would you go for it Doug?

Doug: I think that I probably would. Given where the technology is right now, yeah it's risky because it seems like the problems with CRISPR have obviously not been worked out. I don't know if they ever will be worked out. It seems like despite the fact that they're saying it's quite precise, it really isn't and it could lead to other downstream effects. But I think that if I had a child that was suffering I would probably lean in the direction of "Let's give it a go." I don't know.

Tiffany: Are you saying in some future perfect world where the methods are perfected or are you saying now?

Doug: Probably not now because I don't think things haven't been perfected.

Tiffany:That's the whole question!

Doug: Okay, I was originally saying now but now I'm changing it. I guess the thing is it does get into a moral question with it. It really is like playing god when you're talking about traditional breeding methods with plants and animals, there's clearly a line that's not being crossed there. You're not going into the DNA and tinkering around and fiddling with things and making changes. There is that line. But if they actually get it perfected and they can do it, I don't know. I think using it for the right reasons, actually curing disease, I might be for that.

Tiffany: I would even go as far as to say that I don't think that a human being could ever know everything there is to know about the human body. I think that you have to be a god-level creator in order to do that. So I'm not really holding out any hope that that kind of knowledge will ever be acquired. It would probably be fun to see how much you can know but I don't think that humans can actually know all of that. I'm okay with that though.

Elliot: Okay, I think I've been drawn along to Doug's way of thinking. {laughter} The only thing good about this actually, I'd have stem cell therapy. But stem cell therapy is pretty crazy when you look at what they do. You're not changing the DNA but you are kind of. You're on similar lines. It's very much tinkering with things that human beings have never really been able to do. It seems to work quite well.

Tiffany: But I think that's much different though than actually going into the genome and messing around with the complete blueprint for life. I'd try stem cells but not gene therapy.

Doug: Is it because of a fear of something going wrong or is it more that that's kind of like god's territory and you don't mess with that.

Tiffany: It's more of a fear of the unintended consequences and secondarily, that's god's territory. {laughter} But mostly it's just my own personal fears.

Doug: Right. Fair enough. I think maybe with more research, if they do get a way that is actually precise and they know that when they want to tinker with this one gene, that's the only gene that's going to get tinkered with and they know that this one genetic mutation is what is causing some kind of disease or disorder that is causing a great deal of suffering, I'm okay with them doing that. That's a lot of ifs, mind you. {laughter} I guess what I'm saying, it's kind of my feelings on vaccines as well. In principle I'm not opposed to them, it's just that the way that they currently exist is a total shit show and they're causing all kinds of problems. I guess I kind of feel the same way about this technology. It's a mess right now and they don't know what they're doing and they're making all kinds of mistakes but if they ever get to a point where it is actually possible to do this successfully, then I don't know that I necessarily have a problem with it.

Tiffany: It's one of those ideas that are great on paper but in reality it's crap. I was just looking on Amazon. There is a DIY bacterial genome engineering CRISPR kit on sale for $170! {laughter}

Doug: What does it do? What's the idea? You can edit your own genome? Is that what it is?

Tiffany: Well it sounds like it's just for bacteria but I don't know. If you get a mad enough scientist in a lab, who knows what they can do with this certain bacteria and will they unleash it on the public? Who knows? But it's only $170. It's a steal. {laughter}

Erica: Are there any reviews? Has anyone tried it?

Tiffany: Yeah, there's three reviews and they're all five star. Science made easy. {laughter}

Doug: Oh my god! It's like one of those little home science kits you would get when you were a kid. It came with a little microscope and a bunch of different chemicals.

Tiffany: So if we want to contribute our knowledge to the genetic engineering pool I think we should start with that.

Doug: Wow! That's actually kind of terrifying when you think about it. Everybody's all up in arms about this guy editing babies but we're right around the corner from everybody doing that at home. "Make sure your baby has a big brain."

Erica: That's why I think they let it come out. They wanted to see people's ideas on it. They wanted to see and then this company just decided to sell their kit on Amazon. {laughter} They were waiting for the moment to release it.

Doug: It could be that they were just trying to shift the Overton window a bit, not necessarily gauge the perception but put it out there to start the process of people becoming more accepting of it.

Tiffany: Well if you can tinker around with DNA, even if it's just on bacteria in your basement for $170, just imagine what people like Bill Gates who have billions of dollars can do and he actually is trying to do. He's really big on genetic engineering and genetically modified mosquitoes. So his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been funding a whole lot of DNA research so one can only imagine what those people are up to with all that money behind them.

Erica: Yeah, he's a strong supporter of it all, of CRISPR technology.

Doug: Because he probably just looks at it like computer code. He was able to build Windows so he should be able to modify people...

Tiffany: Building Windows in humans.

Doug: Exactly. For sure he's got some X-Men down in his basement or something like that, genetically modified people with superpowers.

Tiffany: Allegedly has X-Men in his basement. {laughter}

Erica: He actually wrote in a magazine of the New York Council on Foreign Relations - shocking - called Foreign Affairs - he argues that CRISPR and other gene editing techniques should be used globally to meet the growing demand for food and improve disease prevention, particularly malaria which is where Tiffany's GMO mosquitoes come in. He says it would be a tragedy to pass up this opportunity. {laughter} Also, he's very involved with spreading GMO plants in African agriculture. And guess who's right up there with him? Monsanto and Bayer-Ag. These three have financed gene editing projects. I don't know, I just don't trust them.

Tiffany: I don't know why! {laughter}

Elliot: The problem is that - it seems this way anyway, I could be wrong - but it seems that every species, every kind of different genre and family of animal in nature operates in this symbiotic relationship. They all have their individual roles and when you insert or remove one of these species or you alter one of these species, that has downstream, unforeseeable effects on the entire ecosystem. So if you take out the predators in an ecosystem then actually you get an overgrowth of other species which would be eaten by the predators and eventually everything dies. Everything relies on everything else and with these GM mosquitoes there are scientists who have been criticizing this and basically have said that, okay, if you guys let these GM mosquitoes out in the wild this is going to have downstream effects on other mosquitoes.

So they're talking about how, by reducing one mosquito species, what you're potentially going to be doing is increase the number of other species which are actually disease-carrying species. These specific ones - let me find it - this article is talking about how there's a company, Oxitec and they denied releasing millions of a certain type of genetically engineered mosquito, which I can't pronounce the name of. But the aim was suppressing wild mosquito numbers but unfortunately if you were to do this they're saying that other species which carry things like dengue fever and Zika virus and something called chikungunya. This is potentially going to happen.

What you may find is that by releasing a bunch of these so-called benign species you may actually end up producing a situation which is 10 times worse than what we're currently in and you can't foresee exactly what is going to happen when you do something like that and it's completely irresponsible.

Doug: They said that they did release a bunch of GM mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands. This was in November 2018. They came out and said, "Oh yeah, it didn't work". What they were trying to did not work. As far as I know there wasn't a heck of a lot of information that went out. What didn't work.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Erica: How didn't it work?

Doug: Yeah, how didn't it work. Apparently they were just like, "Yeah, it didn't work so we're not going to do it again".

Tiffany: Didn't the governor of the Cayman Islands say, "Yeah, it didn't work and that's all I'm going to say about that"?

Doug: Yeah.

Tiffany: He was pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing so it makes me wonder what happened that we don't know about.

Erica: It's those unintended consequences that they don't want to talk about.

Tiffany: And they do it even when the population doesn't want them to do it. In Florida they wanted to release those genetically modified mosquitoes and over 140,000 people signed a petition against it. Nobody wants this stuff, but they keep pushing it. If somebody wants to get dengue fever, that's their choice.

Doug: Yeah, exactly. Like Elliot was saying, they don't have a clear idea of what the consequences are of these actions. It's almost like they just brainstorm these ideas and then they just go with one. If you're really examined it, it doesn't make a lot of sense. It reminds me of the guys who are trying to dim the sun {laughter} by putting aerosols into the atmosphere to dim the sun to stop global warming. How stupid is that?!? It's the stupidest thing I've ever heard! But apparently they're actually experimenting with it and trying to go ahead with it. It's the same kind of thing with all these GMOs. "We'll just put these genetically modified mosquitoes out there and that'll take care of this problem." It's almost like they don't have the ability to think hard about this stuff.

Erica: Another good example is this idea of Franken bees or these genetically modified pollinators. I won't go super into the whole thing but I think everyone is aware that the bees are dying off, whether it's colony collapse disorder or the varroa mites. There's been a major concern about bee die-offs around the world, not just in the US or Europe. But it's the same kind of thing you're talking about Doug. "Well we'll just genetically modify the bee or use these gene drives or gene editing technology so that we can make a super bee that will be resistant to neonicotinoids."

This was in the Guardian recently. It was called Invasion of the Franken Bee. It's a pretty long article but they who are beekeepers and then you have these scientists that are working on mapping the genome of the bee. It's one of the most studied insects in the whole insect kingdom but even the Beye, the man who was working on the research, said that this is the stupidest idea ever. "The world doesn't need chemical resistant bees," he says, "it needs farming practices that don't harm us. So my point in all that is that instead of genetically messing with the bee so it can tolerate pesticides, deal with the issue and stop using all these terrible pesticides. You know what I mean?

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: So it's almost like, let's just introduce something that's even more crazy and could have major potential blow-back when you consider that they pollinate - I can't remember the amount, but it's like almost every food that you eat {dog barking in the background} ...Sorry, my dog wasn't happy with that idea. {laughter} They're major pollinators. They're responsible for so much, as Elliot was saying, of the whole foundation of life on the planet that enables people to eat.

Tiffany: Well if you think that you have the power to alter the very foundation of life on the planet, then screwing around with a few billion bees, that's pretty much nothing to you. You've got it all together. You know what you're doing. {laughter}

Doug: They're so resistant to pull-back and take a look at the direction that things are going and being able to say, "You know what? We need a course correction here." It's like they keep on trying to stick Band-Aids on things instead of healing the problem. It's the same thing with the enviropig. That was one of the first experiments they did with genetically modifying animals. So they looked at the problem of factory farms, the waste that comes out of them. There was too much nitrogen in the fecal matter of the pigs and that was causing all these algae blooms and environmental problems to surrounding land.

So instead of saying, "Okay, maybe factory farming is a bad idea because we've got all this pollution coming from it", instead they say, "I know, let's genetically modify the pigs so that they don't produce as much nitrogen" and that was their solution to the problem. Factory farming is the problem so let's move away from that! No, no, no, don't worry, we're going to genetically modify our pigs so that it'll be perfect. There'll be no problems anymore.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Erica: That's why I support Tiffany in that previous question. I'm skeptical for sure because it's, "Oh, here's a solution. Here's a solution" and maybe it's not a solution.

Doug: Maybe I have to reconsider. Well I don't know. Maybe not.

Tiffany: You're still holding out hope Doug. {laughter}

Doug: With the factory farming example and with the enviro pigs and the bees, I can see the folly of those answers, that they aren't really good answers. They're actually terrible answers and they aren't really recognizing the nature of the problem. Whereas when you're talking about with a disease that is caused by a genetic mutation and you have an ability to correct that mutation, maybe I'm just short-sighted and I don't see the problem and I would be one of those scientists pushing through a non-solution that's going to cause more problems but to me it seems like a good thing to me, I guess.

Erica: I understand what you're saying.

Tiffany: I think that was all of the red flags and the warnings...

Doug: Did we lose Tiff? Did we lose everybody?

Tiffany: ...who want to research this and they have the funding to do it, are going to keep doing it. We might end up with a million human monkey chimeras {laughter} or monkeys with human brain matter that are smarter, so they say. But I think it's going to continue to go on and I don't know if there's much that we can do to stop it. It might go underground and then ta-da! you stumble on an underground bunker holding 5,000 genetically modified human beings.

Doug: Yeah. X-Men.

Tiffany: And then after that we'll be left to deal with the aftermath on how to deal with these beings.

Doug: Well I can definitely see a future where this kind of stuff gets offered up as commercial things for people to either edit their own genome or edit their babies' genome in some way. It will probably come first with "We will check to see if there are any genetic disorders that can be corrected like diseases and we'll correct those." But then it'll get to the point where you can choose hair colour, eye colour, height, measurements, the whole bit. I can see that future coming, quite soon actually. Within my lifetime I would expect.

Erica: Not to go into another whole random talk, but even just in the technology of in vitro fertilization look at how it has developed over the last 10 years or so. People who could never have a child now can have a child because of technology.

Doug: That's a good point.

Erica: I know we didn't get into all the different facets. It seems like by the week there's new animals with different editing that's coming out and trying to stay up to date on it is impossible. But I think on a little bit lighter note, we do have a pet health segment about pet hedgehogs.

Damian: Hedgehogs

Doug: That's the one.

Damian: Here we go.

Zoya: Hello and welcome to the pet health segment of the Objective Health program. This time I would like to share with you information about the cutest prickly creature, the hedgehog. The video offers advice if you would like to get a hedgehog as a pet but it also contains a lot of other information you may find interesting. There is actually a hedgehog there walking around, so cuteness and don't forget to stay until the end and see even more cuteness. Have a good one everyone. Bye.

Video-Dr. Laurie Hess: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJ_UpgqqVtY Hedgehogs have been living in the wild in Africa for centuries but only recently have been kept as pets. They can make terrific pets when cared for appropriately and their popularity does appear to be increasing. Hedgehogs can be adorable, loving pets if they're handled often and made less fearful of people. They can learn to recognize and bond closely with their owners.

But hedgehogs are not meant for everyone. Before you consider bringing a hedgehog home, there are several things about this unique creature you should be aware of. First, hedgehogs are covered in prickly quills. Like porcupines, the skin over the hedgehog's back is covered with prickly sharp spines that help protect them from predators. But unlike porcupines however, hedgehogs' quills do not shoot out in defense. When handled, hedgehogs will twitch and jump so that the quills poke out so handling a nervous hedgehog can be very tricky and may require holding it in a small towel until it relaxes.

As with all other pets, hedgehog owners should be sure to thoroughly wash their hands after handling their pets as all hedgehogs potentially carry salmonella bacteria that can cause illness in people. Second, hedgehogs curl up when they feel threatened. As a defense mechanism, hedgehogs are able to roll their bodies into tight balls causing their spines to point outwards. Strong muscles over their backs contract forcibly to enable them to do this. It's nearly impossible to unfurl a hedgehog once it's curled up tightly. Hedgehogs must be handled often to get them to relax and uncurl. Unsocialized hedgehogs that are never handled however may remain nervous and tightly curled up all the time.

Third, hedgehogs have a very unique way of exploring their environment called self-anointing. When a hedgehog encounters an object with a new scent, it will lick and bite the object and form a frothy spitball in its mouth containing that new scent. They then throw their heads back and spit this frothy saliva over their spines with their tongues to camouflage themselves with the new scent and to make themselves less obvious to predators.

Fourth, hedgehogs are insectivores, not rodents. They're not strict insectivores however and they consume a variety of different types of food in the wild. Pet hedgehogs eat mealworms, crickets, earthworms, wax worms and a large portion of their diet made of commercially available pelleted formulas manufactured for hedgehogs. They can also eat a small amount of vegetables, fruit and cooked meat. Given their desire to catch live prey, pet hedgehogs should not be given large numbers of insects or they'll likely eat those to the exclusion of the other foods.

Hedgehogs love to eat and if their housed in cages with little opportunity to get out and exercise, they are very likely to become obese. They should be given time out of their cages and be encouraged to run on wheels to help them prevent weight gain.

Finally, hedgehogs are nocturnal. Wild hedgehogs are active at night when their food is available. Pet hedgehogs have maintained this nocturnal lifestyle, sleeping much of the day and running on wheels at night. So if you're a light sleeper or you go to bed early or you stay out late, a hedgehog may not be the best pet for you.

So if you're thinking of having a hedgehog, realize that these prickly little pets need time, attention and care to thrive and interact. {two birds kissing and talking}

Doug: That was very cute.

Erica: That was.

Doug: I can't wait until we're genetically modifying our pets so that they're even more cute, take out all the unwanted behaviours.

Tiffany: What if you could genetically modify your pets to talk?

Doug: There you go. I'm not sure I'd want to hear what they have to say.

Tiffany: I couldn't understand the birds though.

Damian: They're going to find the cuteness gene soon.

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: So everyone will have a cute pet.

Damian: Even cute snakes.

Tiffany: Yuck! {laugher}

Erica: Thank you all for watching and listening. Please like our video and subscribe if you're interested in all of the new topics that we come up with and we hope to have another interesting topic on our next show. Thank you to my co-hosts and Damian for doing all the wonderful pictures that makes our conversation lively.

Damian: No problem.

Erica: So we'll see you all again. Have a great day.

All: Good-byes.