Excessive expectations of science

Alberto Ansuategi Cobo

Ingurumen-ekonomiako ikertzailea


Agirre Escobal, Ana

Genetika, Antropologia Fisikoa eta Animalien Fisiologia Saila


The media and scientists should constantly analyze how we communicate scientific and technological advances. Sometimes, in order to give visibility, we can generate excessive expectations in society and, consequently, cause enormous damage, both social and scientific.

We have brought two current fields, the CRISPR technique used in genetic editing and that of technologists to solve the climate crisis, and we have asked Ana Agirre and Alberto Ansuategi, experts in it, if the expectations generated are excessive.

Ed. Pixabay

Solving the climate

Alberto Ansuategi Cobo

Researcher in Environmental Economics (UPV)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN), IPCC, has recently warned that the planet has a decade, no more, to keep global warming below 1.5°C. On the other hand, the challenge of not exceeding the 1.5°C threshold is no less: carbon emissions should be reduced by 50% in the next decade and become zero by 2050. This will mean a profound transformation of the economic and energy system of industrialized countries, so it is not surprising that climate change resolution technologies have generated many expectations in recent years.

Three lines of argument have been used to socialize the debate on these technologies. On the one hand, it is considered that some of these technologies can be an essential tool for meeting the ambitious carbon reduction targets in Paris. Virtually all scenarios used by climate experts to achieve the 1.5°C target are taken into account the use of carbon capture and storage technologies. Others, for their part, consider that the transition to a low carbon economy will not be achieved with maximum speed, so they defend all types of geoengineering solutions such as the “Plan B” to avoid the climate crisis, such as the fertilization of the sea with iron, water and other food (with the conviction that phytoplankton, which would increase, absorb the CO2 from the atmosphere) or the management of solar radiation. Finally, the commitment to geoengineering can also be a strategic decision of countries and multinationals that derive great benefits from the exploitation of fossil fuels so as not to exhaust their source of wealth.

Those who believe that geoengineering is the key to extending the era of fossil fuels or to avoiding the climate crisis are mistaken. We welcome carbon capture and storage technologies that help us in the transition not to exceed 1.5°C, but we do not dream that the thermostat control of the planet is in our hands because sleep becomes a nightmare.


CRISPR as a therapeutic measure

Related information

Researcher in Molecular Cancer Biology (UPV)

CRISPR is the technique of greatest projection in molecular biology. Similar to a sewing kit, it allows to transform genes in a relatively simple and economical way. It is composed of a scissors (a protein that breaks the DNA, attached to an RNA molecule that will lead to a specific point of the genome), a needle and a thread (enzymes that solve the fractures of the DNA) and a short fragment of DNA that allows to join the generated ends with the scissors (with a small difference from the DNA sequence in the cut area, previously prepared in the laboratory).

For people with genetic pathology caused by an altered gene, it has a very attractive and hopeful therapeutic potential. However, CRISPR is not without risks or ethical conflicts, so it is only used in research or clinical trials.

Over the past few months, several news related to CRISPR have generated debate: Chinese scientist Jiankui He has revolutionized scientists, politicians and society in general the genetic transformation that has affected two babies. On the other hand, the most important researchers of CRISPR have committed themselves not to perform an inherited transformation of DNA and this commitment is expected to last for five years until the technique is safer.

Moreover, we have known that it has already been applied to mouse models of very harsh human pathologies (such as progeria), as well as clinical trials for other diseases such as Hunter syndrome, sickle cell anemia and beta-thalassemia. The information leaked to the media reveal very satisfactory results.

Undoubtedly, we will continue to talk about the technique of CRISPR for a long time and I think we will finish using it as a therapeutic measure, since there are millions of people in the world with genetic pathologies that could take advantage of this technique.

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