The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twenty-seventh and final in a series - Z is for Zinc and Zinc finger nuclease
Do you know what the eight essential nutrients are for humans? You can read them here. Zinc is high on the list with many functions noted: helps you maintain a sense of smell and have a strong immune system; builds proteins, triggers enzymes, creates DNA, and more.
In relation to the previous post, zinc is perhaps the most critical trace mineral for male sexual function. It is involved in virtually every aspect of male reproduction including the hormone metabolism, sperm formation, and sperm motility.
As noted in previous posts, biotech is not always highly complex; sometimes it explores and then puts a star on things like zinc or Blackstrap molasses (post 3) or jackfruit (post 11) because they are good for our health.
Biotech and its underling (or overlord?), organic chemistry, can make clear what zinc does for us, how much we need and how a deficiency affects us. It can prove what chemicals will harm soil so that it has no zinc to impart to a crop, preventing zinc intake through foods. Or, biotech can concoct medicines to enhance male function which we hear about continually on radio and TV. But those “little blue pills” (etc) do not contain zinc.
In itself, biotech is neither good nor bad. It is a body of knowledge, an exciting field of work, a tool or means in the hands of humans that can work toward good or bad ends. It can explore things found in nature like quinine (post 18) or wormwood (post 24) and discover new ways to heal diseases.
Nanotech (post 15) manipulation of zinc led to the discovery of zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs). These are way above the understanding of laypeople and may be a good example of why we consider biotechnologists to be geniuses capable of doing great good, however they may instead do great evil, in some cases never even knowing the difference.
Zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) are a class of engineered DNA-binding proteins that facilitate genome editing by creating a double-stranded break in DNA at a user-specified location. This reminds us of post 4 where we looked at the potential for genome modification that could change the DNA of a human, altering it in the germ stage, thus reinventing a person who originated with one genome destiny to a new one— one selected by the biotechnologist that will be inherited by the subject’s offspring.
Just this past week, news reports heralded that genetic modification of embryos to alter a portion of DNA has been accomplished by a Chinese biotechnician, Dr. He Jiankui. His alteration presumably will prevent HIV/AIDS in twin girls who were born in November 2018.
Dr. Jiankui used CRISPR (post 4), however ZFNs are known to be very useful for in vivo genetic editing for HIV: “Disruption of CCR5 using zinc finger nucleases was the first-in-human application of genome editing and remains the most clinically advanced platform…”
Christians and other moral persons in the biotech field will— and already have— forcefully condemned Dr. Jiankui's “accomplishment,” but continuing manipulations of human life are a foregone conclusion. The 3-parent baby is another example.
Exploring all the ramifications of this trend in biotech is a job for the experts. But laypeople must study their discussions and be ready to comment (post 13). One website to visit for bioethical news and discussions is the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. I hope to add more such resources in the new year.
Many, even Christians, will argue that genetic mutations and other aberrations caused by viruses like HIV must be eradicated, and this process must start out in the petri dish. Ten good reasons not to start life in vitro are listed in Flesh & Bone & The Protestant Conscience. I hope to re-add this content to this website and to add more reasons in the new year.
At the end of this blog series and at this Christmas Season, it is good to celebrate that Jesus Christ is the champion of good biotechnology. He is the Wonderful Counselor. (Isa 9:6) Look to Him for understanding and wisdom.