Gene Therapy for the Planet

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An encounter with gene therapy in action inspires Andrew Lewis to believe that healing a sick planet is within reach but depends on all of us.

At a recent North Bay Bob Dylan tribute, I happened to meet a woman who worked as a biochemist at a Bay Area pharma outfit. She manufactures blood proteins used to treat hemophilia. But as we talked, she excitedly announced that one day her work would go away.

She explained that blood coagulant requires 12 distinct proteins. The genome of hemophiliacs, it turns out, are unable to manufacture protein eight. But it’s now possible to engineer a virus that contains the missing DNA sequence. And if we introduce the virus to hemophiliac marrow, the DNA of the infected marrow will repair and gain the ability to manufacture the missing protein. It all sounded miraculous and strange - voodoo even.

Musicians picked up their guitars, took seats at the keyboards and drum kit and the lilting chime of Mr. Tambourine man filled the room.

Fifteen months ago, a young Greta Thunberg left school and held a sign outside the Swedish Parliament. She stood alone. Skolstrejk för Klimatet her sign read. Hardly a year later, millions of young people in hundreds of cities and communities in every corner of the globe gathered to strike for climate change.


In this long hot summer without precedence in human history, it feels indeed as if our planet is burning with fever. And yet I feel tremendous hope. I marvel at the strange mechanisms by which the genome of the body politic itself can repair. Change does not come just through governmental edict, but can sometimes begin with a single action. Any small action taken by any one of us. We do not need to wait to take those small, but necessary and infectious steps -- gene therapy, if you will — that will allow our children to have a future.

We need a system change, rather than individual change, Thunburg said to the body of the UN.

But we cannot have one without the other.

To do your best is no longer enough.

We must all do the seemingly impossible.

Everything needs to change.

And it has to start today.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Andrew Lewis lives in Sebastopol.