About four years ago, research biologists discovered a special section in bacterial DNA that helps them fight viral infections. They saw the possibilities of applying the special sections to genetic engineering. The special sections are clustered regularly spaced short palindromic repeats or CRISPR for short.
These sections can be used to snip genetic chains at specific sites, pop in genes programming for desirable traits and the organism will carry that trait down the cell line. Original work was done to make bacteria more resistant to viral attack, but soon other applications were investigated.
The science of gene editing has reached a new plateau.
This type of gene editing can be likened to editing a sentence with a word processor to delete words or correct spelling mistakes. One important application of such technology is to facilitate making animal models with precise genetic changes to study the progress and treatment of human diseases. Harvard University
So a brave new world of specific treatments for replacing defective genes and curing disease is on the horizon.
With tools now available that act like molecular scissors, specific and precise alterations can be made. Already the technique has been tried on the nasty virus that causes HIV. It’s not ready yet, but promising.
The sunny picture starts to sour a little when the cell line being altered is in a human embryo. A paper was published in April about research done in China that used flawed(their words) human embryos to see if they could edit the gene that would confer immunity to HIV. While a recent international conference agreed that an altered human embryo should not be implanted into a human embryo, there is little agreement as to the ethics of using human embryos for experimentation.
The simplicity of this new technique allows anyone with an oversized closet to edit genes. Some of the editing will be frivolous, but other tinkering not so. Editing a disease organism to change it from mild to lethal is every defense person’s nightmare.
Of course this raises many ethical questions. In the next few years biology will transform our lives. Synthetic biology, gene editing, epigenetics are likely to become as commonplace as our currently offered GM products. If you look, you may see that tsunami rushing towards us.
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