Gene drivers can lead to mutation of entire species
(Mirror Daily, United States) – The study of genes has evolved very much over the past few years and now CRISPR leads to breakthrough discoveries in science.
CRISPR is a genetic tool also called Cas9 which should provide fast means of ending some of the world’s ecological and health problems. For example, animals that carry viruses can be immunized, insects that have a negative impact on plants can be removed, amphibians can be saved from killer fungi and so on.
CRISPR contains gene drives. Gene drives are bits of DNA, not natural, but engineered, that are made to propel into the DNA of another organism in order to contaminate it and spread within species altering offsprings. Therefore, they should cause massive genetic mutations among the animals they are targeted at.
However, genetic alterations can have consequences that could prove to be too great to manage. So far, the technology and therefore the gene drives have been confined in the lab where they are carefully controlled by scientists. However, the moment they are released into the wild, gene drives can no longer be tamed. Therefore, releasing such powerful genetic ‘weapons’ raises ethical issues that are yet to be discussed by government and scientific agencies.
So how exactly does this CRISPR work? First of all, CRISPR is part of viral DNA that’s been incorporated in the genomes of bacteria. The gene technology helps bacteria form a defense against viruses with the help of the Cas9 enzyme.
In labs, for research purposes CRISPR has been used to modify cells from humans, monkeys, dogs, pigs, mice, fruit flies, worms and even rice and tobacco.
What makes CRISPR so special and so attractive to scientists is its ability to edit a very wide variety of genes from different organisms, whereas the usual techniques in molecular biology are channeled to only one organism, making them very exclusive.
Although this is the newest technology, the concept is not that new. Researchers have been introducing new species to control pests and have been studying genes of parasites. Parasitic genes are more likely to be inherited by an offspring than a normal gene that only has a 50-50 chance. The same goes for these gene drives. Once they get into the DNA of a being, their chances of being transferred to the offspring are higher than 50%. This means that in time, the entire species can suffer mutations and therefore become easier to control by scientists. For example, they can use gene drives to kill only female mosquitoes that are known for biting and spreading disease or modify the genes of insects making them incapable of carrying and spreading diseases.
In conclusion, CRISPR can be a valuable technology in the field of genome modification, but must be used with care as scientists don’t have yet a means of controlling the gene drives once they leave the laboratory.
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