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Friday, 20 March 2015

Scientists Have Created 'DNA Scissors' That Can Alter Your Genes, but Should They Use Them?
   
A spectacular discovery made in 2012 has turned human genome research on its head. Careful what you wish for, comes the warning 
       
 
The Cas9 complex depicts the Cas9 protein (in light blue), along with its guide RNA (yellow), and target DNA (red).
Source: Bang Wong, from source material provided by Feng Zhang
Biotechnology that can rewrite the genome heralds "a new era of human biology" and raises ethical questions for the medical community, experts in bioethics, and everybody else, according to a group of prominent researchers writing in Science.
 
The fuss is over "DNA scissors" discovered in microbes in 2012 that can be adapted to edit genetic material, potentially removing disease-enabling mutations and adding in "corrected" DNA strings. Known by its scientific acronym, the CRISPR-Cas9 protein may eventually help realize precision or individualized medicine, the ability to treat or avoid illness such as cancers, muscular dystrophy, and HIV/AIDS by tinkering with the actual genetic coding that makes a person that particular person.
 
“The simplicity of the CRISPR-Cas9 system allows any researcher with knowledge of molecular biology to modify genomes,” write the 18 scientists, from institutions that include Caltech, Berkeley, Harvard and Stanford. They are led by Nobel-winning biologist David Baltimore of Caltech.
That's a complicated, and potentially dangerous, power. The group recommends that scientists avoid human genome-editing experiments, even where they're legal, and that research and funding sources be transparent. This is the second call to arms in two weeks. An essay last week in Nature called for a moratorium on experiments on human embryos, eggs, or sperm.
 
Genome engineering has become so powerful that civic leaders and the general public should be brought into the debate, the scientists say. What happens if CRISPR snips out the wrong DNA, or adds in a sequence in the wrong place? If these techniques are ever deemed safe and effective, who would qualify for treatment, and when? The mind reels. When's the next remake of The Fly? Don't it make my brown eyes blue?
 
A revolution in basic research is already under way. Labs around the world have demonstrated the potency of CRISPR.

Scientists at Virginia Tech put out a study on Monday that shows how gene editing in mosquitoes may lead to novel strategies to fight the spread of malaria. New approaches to attacking HIV may come from snipping the virus out of human cells, according to Salk Institute research published this month. 

Korean researchers in February made news by testing the technique on human cells. The Center for Genome Engineering at Seoul's Institute for Basic Science boasts: "The whole genome is under our control."
Source

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