Changing the Face of DNA

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Crispr is a DNA editing tool. It sounds simple, but the implications of this are incredible and widespread. A ‘jaw-dropping’ breakthrough in genetic science, Crispr will revolutionise the treatment and study of diseases in all living organisms, from plants to humans.

DNA has been associated with paternity tests from the likes of Easy DNA and similar companies, and the ‘working towards’ identifying genes and curing diseases.

The Crispr technology is creating excitement among DNA experts because previously DNA editing was clumsy and inaccurate, making it riskier than it was worth.

Crispr allows scientists to engineer any part of the human genome with the upmost precision. It has made it possible to alter specific positions on any DNA chromosomes without causing unintended flaws.

David Adams, a DNA scientist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge said, “There have been other technologies for editing the genome but they all leave a ‘scar’ behind or foreign DNA in the genome. This leaves no scars behind and you can change the individual nucleotides of DNA – the ‘letters’ of the genetic textbook – without any other unwanted changes.”

Because this is so accurate, it is believed that it will soon be used in gene therapy to treat incurable diseases such as HIV or currently untreatable diseases such as Huntington’s Disease.

A controversial application would be to correct flaws in the genes of IVF babies. Before Crispr, this has been a controversial issue on two counts. One because it is considered unsafe, and two because it is the first step on a slippery slope to ‘designer babies’, or so some people believe. However, now that Crispr offers a safe option, scientists believe that correcting flaws will soon happen, with the argument that if you can make sure that suffering doesn’t happen, why wouldn’t you?

Dagan Wells, an IVF scientist at Oxford University told The Independent, “If this new technique succeeds in allowing perfectly targeted correction of abnormal genes, eliminating safety concerns, then the exciting prospect is that treatments could be developed and applied to the germline, ridding families and all their descendants of devastating inherited disorders.”

“It would be difficult to argue against using it if it can be shown to be as safe, reliable and effective as it appears to be. Who would condemn a child to terrible suffering and perhaps an early death when a therapy exists, capable of repairing the problem?” Dr Wells said.

It even has agricultural implications, with the engineering of the genes of plants and animals potentially accelerating the development of genetically modified crops and livestock.

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