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Scientists Suggest Gene Technique ‘CRISPR’ May Likely Change Future

First Posted: Jun 07, 2016 06:40 AM EDT
Genetic engineering techniques
Genetic engineering techniques enable modification of the DNA of living organisms. Wikimedia Commons/Maxim Bilovitskiy CC BY 2.0

Gene technique "CRISPR" is a biological system for modifying DNA. According to leading biochemists and geneticists, this gene editing technology can change the lives of everyone on Earth.

CRISPR has been co-discovered in 2012 by Professor Jennifer Doudna, a molecular biologist at the University of California in Berkeley, who was studying how bacteria protect themselves against viral infection. Along with colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, Prof. Doudna discovered the natural system that can be used to perform accurate changes in any DNA. According to Prof. Doudna, a bacterium, when being attacked, makes a bit of genetic material that matches the invading virus' genetic sequence.  This material, along with key protein Cas9, can lock on to the virus' DNA to break and disable it. Based on this, scientists can now use the similar procedure to insert, erase of repair DNA.

Considering that the technology is only a few years old, some are already expecting that trials may soon begin, yet several are still in the planning stage. According to reports, Editas Medicine, a biotech company from Boston hopes that a gene-editing treatment would be ready by 2017 for clinical testing to cure Leber congenital amaurosis - a rare retinal disorder that leads to blindness, as gene mutation results in the gradual loss of photoreceptor cells in the eye,  Motherboard reported.

In addition to this, other biotech companies are working on the theory that the gene technique CRISPR may be used to enhance the function of the T cells of the body, helping the immune system recognize and kill cancer. Similarly, treatments for blood and immune system disorders are also being targeted.

Meantime, two other gene techniques were used earlier: the TALENs, which was used to reverse cancer and; ZFNs that helped remove immune cells of 80 HIV patients prior to deleting CCR5 gene that HIV uses to enter the cells.

While there has been no recommendation yet for gene-edited human embryos, several research teams in China have conducted basic research, and UK is reported to be the first nation to officially agree to such technique for research purposes, according to Herts and Essex Observer.

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