For humans, the hunt for knowledge never cease. We always want to learn and do more, become better and more advanced versions of ourselves. That’s all mainly because we want to be better from others.
Moreover, science is discovering new things gradually, and we are finding answers to our questions at a pace unmatched.
Similarly, continuing our thirst for knowledge, we came across a new discovery, so-called CRISPR. It is cheap, fast, and somewhat precise gene-editing tool helped us in targeting and solving various biological problems. With CRISPR, we can target and modify the genome of almost any organism.
So, can we boost up our intelligence? The question may seem simple at first glance, but it is not as simple as It looks. To answer this question let me first find out what is intelligence and how is it controlled?
What is Intelligence?
Intelligence is defined as the ability or the skill to gain new knowledge, information, learn new things. Moreover, it includes mental ability involved in reasoning, perceiving relationships and analogies, calculating, learning quickly etc.
Other definitions are: “Intelligence is what you do when you don’t know what to do.” OR “Intelligence is a hypothetical idea which we have defined as being reflected by certain types of behavior.”
Genetic and intelligence
Looking at our genome and from literature already published. It is a fact that intelligence is up to some extent has genetic factors involved. Also, it has been proved that intelligence is inherited typically from mother.
Since its foundation in 1999, the Shenzhen-based Cognitive Genomics Project focused on understanding the genetics behind intelligence. The study is using over 2000 individuals having IQs over 150. Also, they are planning to involve 2000 more.
The project aims to look for the genetic basis of intelligence. In short, they are scanning the genomes of all these intelligent participants to know the pattern of genes responsible for intelligence.
“There is a vast amount of work establishing the heritability of intelligence, and the reliability of measuring it,” said cognitive scientist Steven Pinker. “We know the genes are in there, but because each one accounts for such a small proportion of the variance, they are hard to pinpoint.” He added.
The complexity of genetics behind Intelligence
Unlike other traits or diseases that are under the influence of a single gene. On the other side, intelligence is not a single gene trait. There are multiple genes that all come together, contributing their parts in developing over it. These multiple genes have complex interactions with one another.
The Chinese Cognitive Genomics Project seems quite easy and straightforward. However, its complicated and difficult task. Because the intelligence pattern usually doesn’t to follow single-gene-influence genetics (Mendelian genetics).
That means it is easy to recognize diseases with a single gene mutation pattern such as Huntington’s disease or Cystic fibrosis. However, on the other hand, traits like intelligence, hair and eye color etc. involve multiple genes interaction.
Effect of Epigenetics on intelligence
Recent research has shown that epigenetics also influence intelligence. The study conducted by Dr. Jakob Kaminski of Harité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, characterize many genes in a group of healthy adults. Later, the results are compared with intelligence scores (IQs) and various other neurological traits.
The findings demonstrate a strong link between the epigenetic modifications of a particular gene and the IQ.
Epigenetics involves heritable changes in gene expression while do not influence changes to the underlying DNA sequence. Epigenetics leads to a change in phenotype rather than genotype.
An epigenetic change is a regular occurrence and a natural phenomenon. Also, several factors including age, the environment/lifestyle, and disease condition can effect on epigenetic. And so do intelligence.
What is CRISPR?
CRISPR is a gene-editing tool that has the potential to precisely edit or delete the genome of almost any organism. It is considered as the hottest science breakthrough.
CRISPR is the most accurate, efficient, fast and cheapest gene-editing tool so far employed in genetic engineering. It could revolutionize everything from medicines to agriculture and more. Also, with the help of CRISPR, researchers can create synthetic life.
Explore more about CRISPR: What is CRISPR Cas9?
But what if we do something far better than this? What if we boost up our intelligence with CRISPR?
Can CRISPR Boost Intelligence?
Not now, certainly, but maybe someday. Although there are plenty of hurdles to overcome first.
As CRISPR functions better at targeting a single gene, while multiple genes regulate intelligence. Therefore, for at least now, CRISPR cannot use to target it easily.
The complex interaction of several genes for intelligence makes things quite complicated for researchers. That’s because if we try to edit one gene positively, it may affect negatively several other genes. It may immediately cause death.
Moreover, most of the genes that contribute to intelligence also involved in structural and functional roles in the brain. So, editing them will affect the brain in several unwanted ways.
Let suppose; we can edit the genes related to intelligence and the embryo, which we edited, is now a fully grown adult. But will that adult be intelligent? Still, we are not sure. Why? Because apart for intelligence being controlled by several genes.
Intelligence is not only influenced by genetics. Moreover, the research shown epigenetics also plays a crucial role in its regulation. They are environmental conditions, makes things complicated.
“In my opinion, Crispr could in principle be used to boost the expected intelligence of an embryo by a considerable amount,” said James J. Lee, a researcher at the University of Minnesota.
He further added; “One practical obstacle is that we still do not have a reliable means of determining the causal site(s) responsible for the association.”
Video: Can We Genetically Improve Intelligence?
So, in short, editing our genes to become more intelligent is currently impossible. Right now. We have not yet learned enough about how different genes interact with one another. Also, how we can control their interaction. In fact, we still are not 100% clear about our entire genome, let alone intelligence genes.
“I doubt that we’ll see parents using CRISPR to implant any of them in their kids, for many practical reasons.” Said cognitive scientist Steven Pinker
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