Upgrading the Brain through Gene Editing – A Spiritual Insight


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Last year there was a paper published tilted “Virus-Mediated Genome Editing via Homology-Directed Repair in Mitotic and Postmitotic Cells in Mammalian Brain.” (Nishiyama et al., 2017, Neuron 96, 755–768, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.10.004) reporting how Scientists developed a tool to perform precise gene editing in neurons (the dictionary defines neurons as a specialized cell transmitting nerve impulses; a nerve cell). Neurons are the fundamental units of the brain and nervous system. It is these cells that are responsible for sending signals to our muscles and receiving sensory input from the external world. Our bodies nervous system relays signals from sight, touch, and sound to the brain for processing and understanding. These signals are electrical signals, and neurons are the cells that broadcast these signals to the brain throughout the body and are a large portion of the brain. The creation of new neurons in the brain is called neurogenesis. The unique factor of the neuron is that this type of cell does not continuously replicate itself. Previous to a new technology that has been developed, it was relatively easy to use CRISPR to edit cells that divide. However, this technique that allow scientists to carry out the most precise edits do not work in cells that no longer divide. This includes most neurons in the brain. As a result, this technology has limited use in brain research. In this paper, researchers developed a new tool that allows precise genome editing in mature neurons opening the possibility to modify neurons and even mature neurons in neuroscience research. This new technology is called CRISPR-Cas9. In this technology, the gene editing technique occurs by the use of a viral defense mechanism originally found in bacteria. When placed inside of a cell such as a neuron, the CRISPR-Cas9 system functions to damage the DNA in a particular way. The cell then repairs itself using two techniques, (i) non-homologous end joining, and (ii) homology directed repair. The first technique is prone to errors while the second is more precise in the sense of being capable of performing specific gene insertions. The idea then is to use the homology directed repair, and to convince the cells (neurons) to use this technique to do its repair work. When the brain cells become mature, they turn into neurons and they are referred to as post-mitotic or nondividing cells making these cells largely inaccessible to the homology directed repair. This paper has shown that it is possible to modify post-mitotic neurons using the CRISPR-Cas9 and a virus. The virus of choice is Adeno-associated virus (AAV) which is a low immunogenic, nontoxic virus used by scientists as the delivery mechanism for genes. The scientists tested the CRISPER-Cas9 + virus combo in aged Alzheimer’s diseased mice showing that this technique is applicable even in advanced ages. The conclusion is this new technique has a potential application in neuropathological diseases, accelerating research and development of novel therapeutics, regardless of the cell type, cell maturity, brain region, or age. The significance of this work is for the efficient, flexible, and concise method to study brain diseases that may lead to a potential cure.

The spiritual insight is in the intentional study and application of this technique for medical research, the parallel is found in the intentional study and application of God’s Word to our lives. This idea of intentionally studying God’s word is for the purpose of getting God’s Word to effect our way of life such that we begin walking in God’s ways, and conforming our lives to righteousness. The importance of studying God’s Word is drawn out in the Mishnah Pirkei Avot chapter 5.

Mishnah Pirkei Avot 5:12
אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בַּתַּלְמִידִים. מַהֵר לִשְׁמֹעַ וּמַהֵר לְאַבֵּד, יָצָא שְׂכָרוֹ בְהֶפְסֵדוֹ. קָשֶׁה לִשְׁמֹעַ וְקָשֶׁה לְאַבֵּד, יָצָא הֶפְסֵדוֹ בִשְׂכָרוֹ. מַהֵר לִשְׁמֹעַ וְקָשֶׁה לְאַבֵּד, חָכָם. קָשֶׁה לִשְׁמֹעַ וּמַהֵר לְאַבֵּד, זֶה חֵלֶק רָע:

There are four middoth (types) of disciples: quick to understand and quick to forget — his gain is negated by his loss. [For since he forgets what he learns, what good is his quick understanding? — wherefore his loss is greater than his gain.]; understanding with difficulty and forgetting with difficulty — his loss is negated by his gain, [since what he understands in spite of his difficulty remains with him. A practical application. If there are two disciples before us and we can provide tuition only for one, the forgetter with difficulty takes precedence over the quick to understand.]; quick to understand and forgetting with difficulty — a wise (disciple);. Understanding with difficulty and quick to forget — this is “a bad portion.” [It is not possible to say here “chasid” or wicked, for this does not depend upon a man’s free choice, but is something that he is born with.]

Here the rabbis are discussing four types of persons, for example, one who is quick to understand and quick to forget. The idea is that his gain (understanding) is canceled by his loss of memory. As since he forgets what he learns, what benefit is there in that which he is quick to understand? The point is that this type of person, his loss is greater than his gain because he did not take to applying God’s Word to his life. The proper application will lead to remember what God has said. The Mishnah Pirkei Avot 5:14-15 goes on to say the following:

Mishnah Pirkei Avot 5:14
אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בְּהוֹלְכֵי לְבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ. הוֹלֵךְ וְאֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה, שְׂכַר הֲלִיכָה בְיָדוֹ. עוֹשֶׂה וְאֵינוֹ הוֹלֵךְ, שְׂכַר מַעֲשֶׂה בְיָדוֹ. הוֹלֵךְ וְעוֹשֶׂה, חָסִיד. לֹא הוֹלֵךְ וְלֹא עוֹשֶׂה, רָשָׁע:

There are four middoth in going to the house of study: going but not doing [i.e., going to the house of study to listen, but not reviewing his learning and not understanding] — the reward of going is in his hand; doing [i.e., learning and reviewing in his study at home], but not going — the reward of doing is in his hand; going and doing — a chasid; not going and not doing — a wicked one.

Mishnah Pirkei Avot 5:15
אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בְּיוֹשְׁבִים לִפְנֵי חֲכָמִים. סְפוֹג, וּמַשְׁפֵּךְ, מְשַׁמֶּרֶת, וְנָפָה. סְפוֹג, שֶׁהוּא סוֹפֵג אֶת הַכֹּל. מַשְׁפֵּךְ, שֶׁמַּכְנִיס בְּזוֹ וּמוֹצִיא בְזוֹ. מְשַׁמֶּרֶת, שֶׁמּוֹצִיאָה אֶת הַיַּיִן וְקוֹלֶטֶת אֶת הַשְּׁמָרִים. וְנָפָה, שֶׁמּוֹצִיאָה אֶת הַקֶּמַח וְקוֹלֶטֶת אֶת הַסֹּלֶת:

There are four middoth (levels) in those who sit before the sages: [(Above, [Mishnah 12], the subject is remembering and forgetting; here it is logical reasoning and discriminating what is right from what is not right]: a sponge. [Just as a sponge absorbs muddy water together with clear water, so there is a disciple whose heart is “broad” and accepts whatever he hears, lacking the power to discriminate between the true and the false], a funnel, a strainer, and a sieve. A sponge — it absorbs everything; a funnel — it takes in at one end and releases at the other. [So, there is a disciple who emits whatever he absorbs]; a strainer — it releases the wine and retains the lees. [So, there is a disciple who releases whatever he has learned in the house of study and retains only idle talk]; and a sieve — it releases the flour and retains the meal. [After the bran and the bruised grain are extracted from the ground flour, and there remain the thin flour with the thick meal, the desired part, it is put through a very thin sieve, so that there descends all that thin flour, like a white powder, and there remains only the thick, desirable, meal. (This is how meal-offerings were prepared.) Similarly, there is a disciple who has the ability to sift what he has heard and to discriminate the truth from the false and the vain.]

Based upon the discussion, there are four temperaments of people. The one type is going to study but not applying what was learned. This is paralleled to the one who goes but did not review the lesson prior to going. The idea is the one who goes to study and actually applies God’s Word to his life is a chasid (a righteous person), whereas the one who goes but does not apply God’s Word, this person is a wicked one. Notice how this is consistent with a teaching Yeshua gave according to Matthew 7:


Matthew 7:16-23
7:16 ‘You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 7:17 ‘So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 7:18 ‘A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 7:19 ‘Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 7:20 ‘So then, you will know them by their fruits. 7:21 ‘Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter 7:22 ‘Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 7:23 ‘And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (NASB)

Here Yeshua is speaking of the time when people will come before the Lord and make the claim that they did many things in his name. Yeshua responds with how he does not know them for they worked lawlessness. This is similar to the metaphor of the student who does not distinguish between right and wrong. This is like the metaphor of the sponge adsorbing and collecting both the clean and dirty water, absorbing water whether it is dirty or clear. The idea here is of the one who considers broad concepts by accepting everything he hears indiscriminately in relation to truth and falsehood (i.e. consider the person who mingles LGBT with the gospel, or believes it is God who has made a person this way). The most important reason we study God’s Word is so that we are able to recognize the truth from a lie. We have to be intentional about this, programming our minds to have the capability to discern truth and lies. Studying God’s Word is synonymous to upgrading our brains because we are putting good things into our minds as opposed to bad (sinfulness).  When we take these things seriously, to study God’s Word and to put it into action, we are like the “disciple who has the ability to sift what he has heard and to discriminate the truth from the false and the vain.” When we consider these types of people, those who are singled out in Matthew 7, they have the appearance of righteousness on the outside, but do not have what is needed on the inside that is related to applying God’s Word to their lives.  They have the appearance of a love for God and His ways (they just go to church or synagogue) but do not apply God’s Word to their lives. This is paralleled to the one who places his love upon something transient. When love is dependent upon something transient, it will not last. When the thing that was the cause of his love perishes, the love will also perish. But any love that is not dependent upon something transient, it will last. This is having love in God and His Word, both of which are eternal. The one who places his love upon the Lord, his love will not perish. In the same way that the thing which is the cause of that love, the Lord God Almighty and His Messiah Yeshua do not perish, so too does this kind of love not perish. This is what it means to love God above all else (i.e. the Shema). Our words and our actions tell the truth of what we believe. To many people today believe what they are taught is a passive faith. They believe the duty of a believer ends after leaving church, or synagogue. This kind of commitment falls short, and one simply falls back into the same kind of lifestyle as described in Matthew 7, one of lawlessness. Living a faithful life however is much more involved than simply reciting a simple prayer. The rabbis draw out the significance of these types of people, and it is easy to get into this condition of we are not being intentional to study God’s Word and to be faithful as the children of God.

In the scientific research, we learned when the brain cells become mature, they turn into neurons and they are referred to as post-mitotic or nondividing cells making these cells largely inaccessible to the homology directed repair. It is easy to become matured, post-mitotic, or nondividing cells in the sense that we become cold and hard to God’s truth. This world seems to be designed in this way, to draw us away from the things of God. There is hope however, we read in Zechariah 1:3 “… This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 1:4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. 1:5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors? (NIV) The promise is this, if we return to the Lord, He will return to us. The danger is if we follow in the footsteps of our ancestors, God’s Word will come true in relation to His words and His decrees. We have hope however, if we determine our hearts, humble ourselves, and seek the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, if we truly seek the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and strength, to study His word, and to put His word into action, the Lord will not leave us to go on our own. This is the promise we have in His Messiah Yeshua. The Lord God will come to dwell in our hearts. He will never leave us nor forsake us! And He will empower us to overcome this world for the glory of His Name!

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