This personal statement was part of this student’s successful application to the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of Leeds, University of Leicester and Loughborough University for Natural Sciences.
Discoveries from nature have always been a source of inspiration and intrigue to me due to their ability to alter mankind’s destiny in the most profound of ways. Never have we faced such a crisis of identity since the danger of nuclear annihilation. In contrast to the menace of mushroom clouds, this threat happens silently in minute cells, transfected by the endonuclease CRISPR/Cas9. Discovered just over five years ago by Jinek et al. to be a useful gene-editing tool via sgRNA complexing, its impact on man is immeasurable. From knocking out genes to rewriting them, the ability to manipulate the genome given by CRISPR due to its cost, fidelity and simplicity has cemented our role as masters of our fate. Once again, man is confronted with a monumental task – as we did when weaponizing nuclear fission – to wield our power with care and benevolence or risk the end of life as we know it.
Worryingly, we are at times either ignorant of or confounded by our dominance over the source code of life. Losing touch with our humanity may be as easy as neglecting off-target mutations – often overlooked in scientific literature – in germlines, runaway editing due to callous biohacking, or with the implantation of an embryo edited to the eugenicists’ liking. However, as Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans stated succinctly in ‘Evolving Ourselves’, it is folly to shun the capabilities of CRISPR to reshape Homo sapiens. When we reach for the stars, literally and figuratively, we need its power to accelerate our evolution to become more resilient and prepared physically for the challenges ahead.
Fascinated by the complex crossroads man faces due to CRISPR-mediated gene editing, I read ‘A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution’. In the absence of a framework for bioethics and legislation worldwide, CRISPR-related research, especially in gene therapy, stands to suffer from the setbacks viral gene therapy experienced in the 1990s, or worse, be exploited as a pawn by self-serving agents. This spurred me to survey the factors behind China’s accelerated rate of gene-editing research as an EPQ project. By factoring in the stakes of the Middle Kingdom, the widening disparities in research efforts between China and the West can be better addressed via the arrival of a global consensus on the ethics and limits of gene-editing. I believe that, as with any conflict, this can only be done by respecting and understanding the interests of every stakeholder, which in this example, are China’s.
Taking part in a shadow placement in the High Impact Research (HIR) division of University of Malaya gave me invaluable insights into basic research. From bacteriological work involving quorum sensing to molecular work such as PCR, the programme honed my laboratory and optimisation techniques and skills. The key lesson from my three-week placement, however, was the importance of idea generation. With aid from bioinformatics tools, I formulated hypotheses and proposals for potential applications of HIR’s research, such as designing biosensors and devising hypothetical treatments for bacterial infections.
My ardour for fundamental research, complemented by confident command of both the humanities and sciences, places me in a unique position in KTJ’s Debate Union. As a junior trainer, I strive to educate young minds to engage with scientific progress. Such outreach helps reconcile the public to the scientific community and the ivory towers, thus enhancing mutual trust and cooperation. CRISPR, just like Oppenheimer’s creation, is itself devoid of meaning. We, however, choose to breathe life into it, unwittingly tapping its power to reshape our fate. Studying the biological sciences would not only satisfy my desire to contribute to basic research, but also to push for aligning the interests of science with those of mankind; hopefully for the betterment of all.
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