Gene editing is nothing new. Our understanding of the human genome has become more profound since it was precisely mapped in 2003. Building on that success, today, CRISPR can be used to fix the DNA errors at the root of almost 7,000 diseases. This technique is known as gene editing. Biotechnology acts like a spell-checker, identifying a particular DNA sequence, editing and replacing it.
Although gene editing has some potentially dangerous downsides, it could deliver some tremendous leaps forward in curing diseases along with other benefits — for instance, ensuring we have enough food to feed everyone on the planet.
Given below are the five things you need to know about gene editing:
1. Gene Editing Can Be of Two Types
The gene-editing technique used to address human diseases and improve health can be categorized into two main types.
The first is germline therapy that is directed at reproductive cells (eggs and sperm) or preimplantation embryos, allowing for the correction of disease-causing gene variants that are certain to be inherited by the offspring.
The second type of gene editing is somatic cell gene therapy, which involves transferring genes into the target organism’s somatic cells, such as the bone marrow cells. It can potentially cure or slow down the progression of particular diseases in humans or animals.
2. Gene Editing Could Be Used to Remove and Replace Faulty Genes
Gene editing can offer some significant advantages once faulty genes — genes that could be dangerous to the health of humans or animals — have been located. These potentially life-threatening characteristics can be edited. In humans, this technique can be applied to ensure that children do not suffer from the same diseases as their parents, including Huntington’s and Tay-Sachs. Additionally, it can be used to fix mutations before they end up in some fatal diseases.
In animals, gene editing can eliminate some common problems such as blindness and difficulty in breathing. Moreover, it can be used to develop modified crops that are impervious to pests and diseases.
3. CRISPR is One Technology That Will Keep Us Going
CRISPR is a particular type of gene editing that will keep on going in the years to come. First developed in 2012 by scientists at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, CRISPR technology harnesses the naturally occurring gene-editing system in bacteria. Given that the human body is composed of around 37 trillion cells, the microscopic scale of this technique is truly extraordinary. Currently, CRISPR is the most accurate way of determining the location to cut and split a DNA strand.
4. Gene Editing Could Change the Face of Healthcare
Gene editing has major applications in the field of healthcare, with some of the most ground-breaking ones focusing on the elimination of DNA mutations that can result in a wide range of diseases, from kidney disease to Parkinson’s. For instance, gene editing has shown proven results in fixing DNA mutations responsible for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). It is a severe type of muscular dystrophy that primarily affects one in 3,500 young boys. Although it is still in its nascent stages, it is expected to offer a viable treatment for humans.
5. It Could Eliminate the Problem of Food Allergies
Gene editing could prevent allergic reactions resulting from food products such as nuts, cereals, and dairy products. For instance, scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands are using this technique to target and eliminate antigens (epitopes) in glutens from wheat varieties. This makes it easier for people having gluten intolerance to consume food.
The Bottom Line
To conclude, gene editing is a highly essential technique that can potentially treat complex illnesses. However, there is a scope of improvement in this area, and researchers are trying hard to make this technique more precise and effective.
Researchers state that CRISPR technologies have enhanced and will continue to do so in the coming years. It could one day be an effective way to cure diseases resulting from gene mutations.