The ability to edit the genetic structure of a human being is a topic that raises a lot of controversy and fuels ethical debates that question the very right to do so. Discussions not only represent a considerable obstacle within the religious parts of people’s lives but slowly question every aspect of the human condition.
What if we could almost terminate children born with defects, or prevent cancer from ever happening? What kind of sacrifice and troubles can we expect along that road that alters humankind as we know it?
As Easy As Cut/Paste
Gene editing is, in a nutshell, a way to change specific parts of DNA. This means the reach of this method can change just one cell or an entire organism. With this kind of genetic editing, sections of DNA can be removed and replaced.
Forbidden Across The Globe
Exceptions will be mentioned later, but editing the human genome is against the law across the globe, if the embryo that is being changed will continue to develop for more than two weeks.
But, There Are Exceptions
China, Japan, Ireland, and India are the only countries in the world that technically do not impose any strict regulations when it comes to gene editing. The scientific community is expecting that international laws that everyone will have to follow are soon to see the light of day.
The Use Of Gene Editing
Genome editing can be useful in a few cases. First of all, it has been a great tool when treating diseases like AIDS or leukemia. The technology allows for outside modification of human blood cells, that can then later be back put back into a person, and start fighting the disease.
Secondly, if used for scientific purposes only, changing the DNA of a cell will provide insight into how the cell works and lives. Finally, in the field of biotechnology, genome editing has proved useful in enhancing the resistance of various crops, therefore improving the means of production immensely.
In 2015, a controversial method appeared called CRISPR-Cas9, which offered a way to change human germ cells: eggs, sperm, and embryos. It originated from the Yat-sen University in China, with Junjiu Huang as the lead scientist. However, Huang’s team used embryos that could not develop into a child.
Cas-9, The Bacteria’s Defense
Cas-9 is a crucial part of the CRISPR method. It is a special enzyme that cuts up the DNA so that a specific part can be changed. This kind of specially engineered tool successfully alters the DNA sequence. Interestingly, this enzyme was first found in bacteria, who used it as a defense system against viruses.
Organ Harvesting Pigs
Pigs DNA is used widely across the world, and the CRISPR method is even attempting to create a pig that will serve as a viable human organ donor.
Lulu And Nana
Lulu and Nana are the first two babies born with their genes been edited prior to birth. In 2018, He Jiankui from Shenzhen, China, announced how two girls were born, although prematurely.
Another DNA altering method that works is called TALEN, which is short for Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases. These enzymes literally cut up the sequence of DNA, and they can be precisely directed to find what part needs alterations.
Saving An 11-Month Old Baby
The first use of the TALEN sounds almost like a hi-tech spy-mission. This method helped in the treatment of a child that was 11 months old and had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A specific type of cell was created, with the intention to attack the cells of leukemia. Along the way, those cells had to be undetectable to the host immune system.
What is Cas-9?
Cas-9 is a crucial part of the CRISPR method. It is a special enzyme that cuts up the DNA so that a specific part can be changed.
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