Sherlock Holmes Explains Genetic Engineering

a semi-realistic painting of Sherlock Holmes standing at a lectern in a modern classroom, surrounded by attentive students
a semi-realistic painting of Sherlock Holmes standing at a lectern in a modern classroom, surrounded by attentive students

Sherlock Holmes stood at the front of the lecture hall, his arms crossed over his chest and a look of mild disdain on his face. The students in front of him shifted nervously in their seats, unsure of what to expect from the famous detective.

“Good afternoon, students,” Holmes began, his voice laced with authority. “I have been asked to speak to you today about a case that my colleague, Dr. Watson, and I were called to investigate at a university not too long ago. It involved a murder, you see, and the suspects were a team of scientists who had recently created a genetically engineered individual named “Adam” with advanced cognitive abilities, including exceptional intelligence, enhanced memory, improved problem-solving, and decision-making capabilities. One day, Adam was found dead in his lab, and the team of scientists who created him became the prime suspects.

“As you can imagine, this case brought to light a number of issues related to genetic engineering and its potential applications in medicine and agriculture. For example, during the investigation, it was revealed that the scientists had used CRISPR gene editing to create Adam, but they had not obtained proper ethical clearance for their research. CRISPR is a revolutionary technology that allows for precise and efficient editing of the genome. It has enormous potential for treating genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, as well as developing synthetic biology, such as creating new medicines and vaccines, crop improvement and even creating more sustainable sources of energy and food production. However, as with any new technology, there are also concerns about the ethics of genetic modification, the potential for unintended consequences, and possible misuse.

“Currently, the use of CRISPR in human embryos is highly regulated and only allowed for research purposes in certain countries. In the United States, the FDA is currently reviewing guidelines for the use of CRISPR in human cells and offers some guidance on gene editing.

“As the investigation unfolded, it became clear that Adam’s death was not just a simple murder case. Instead, it was a complex web of motives and hidden agendas, involving gene doping, gene therapy, and genetic privacy. The case also touched on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food production. GMOs are organisms whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory. They have the potential to increase crop yields, reduce the use of pesticides, and improve the nutritional content of food. However, there are also concerns about the safety of GMOs and their potential impact on the environment, such as crossbreeding with natural organisms and creating superbugs or superweeds. Currently, many countries require the labeling of GMOs in food products, and there is an ongoing debate about their safety and regulation.

“In addition, the case brought up the use of gene therapy to treat genetic disorders. Gene therapy is the use of genetic material to treat or prevent a disease. It has the potential to cure genetic disorders that were once thought to be incurable, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. However, there are also concerns about the safety and long-term effects of gene therapy, such as off-target effects, immune response, and ethical issues. Currently, there are over 1,000 clinical trials for gene therapy ongoing worldwide, with several FDA-approved gene therapies already on the market.

“The case also involved an element of gene doping, which is the use of genetic engineering to enhance athletic performance. This practice is banned by many sports organizations, as it is seen as cheating and can have serious health risks, such as cancer and heart disease. In fact, the investigation revealed that one of the scientists had been using Adam for illegal gene doping experiments to enhance athletic performance, which led to his death.

“But perhaps most importantly, the case highlighted the issue of genetic privacy and discrimination. With the increasing ability to manipulate our genetic code comes the potential for misuse of this information in areas such as employment and insurance. Genetic privacy and discrimination concern the protection of personal genetic information and the potential for discrimination based on genetic information, such as employers not hiring someone because they may have a genetic predisposition to a certain disease. Currently, there are laws such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) in the United States that protect individuals from discrimination based on their genetic information. However, as technology advances, it is important to continue to consider and address these ethical and legal issues.

“We also discussed the use of gene editing in agriculture to create more resilient crops, which raises concerns about the impact on biodiversity and the potential for unintended consequences, such as loss of genetic diversity, changes in ecosystem and impact on non-target organisms; the use of gene therapy for cosmetic purposes, which raises ethical questions about the definition of “normal” and what constitutes a “treatment”; and the use of CRISPR gene editing on human embryos to prevent the transmission of genetic disorders, which raises ethical and legal concerns about genetic modification, such as designer babies, eugenics and lack of regulation.

“In conclusion, students, genetic engineering is a powerful tool with the potential to change the world in ways we can hardly imagine. But we must also be aware of its risks and potential long-term consequences, as well as the ethical issues it raises. Remember that with great power comes great responsibility, and we must be diligent in our efforts to ensure that genetic engineering is used for the betterment of humanity, rather than for its harm. As scientists and researchers, it is our duty to consider the ethical implications of our work, and to work towards solutions that benefit all of society. Remember that it’s not only the technology that needs to be developed but also the governance and regulations around it, to ensure that all the benefits of genetic engineering can be reaped without causing harm. We must always strive for balance and progress, not just for today, but for generations to come.”

The students sat in silence, taking in Holmes’ words and the gravity of the issues he had outlined. They knew that they had much to consider and much to learn, as they embarked on their own careers in the field of genetic engineering.

Holmes ended the lecture with a quote, “I never guess. It is a shocking habit – destructive to the logical faculty.” He then walked out of the lecture hall, leaving the students to ponder over his words and the complexity of the field of genetic engineering.

This scene was created by ChatGPT and the images by DALL-E 2. Edited by Omri Shabath.