Gene Editing, What Does It Really Means

Gene Editing, What Does It Means.

Gene editing’s aim is to make a precise change in a DNA sequence while leaving the rest of the genome untouched. It can be used to introduce desirable changes into plants and animals and perhaps people too one day and to treat a range of disorders in people. Gene editing has been around for decades, but it remained extremely difficult and expensive until the revolutionary CRISPR technique was discovered in 2013. CRISPR is so cheap and easy that it is already widely used by researchers around the world, and nearly 20 clinical trials in people are already getting underway. The rapid pace of development has been unprecedented.

When Stephen Tsang of Columbia University Medical Center and colleagues compared the entire genomes of two CRISPR-edited mice with a third one, they found thousands of shared mutations in the two edited mice. Tsang and his colleagues attributed to these mutations to CRISPR and issued a widely-covered press release that suggested CRISPR is far riskier than dozens of other studies had suggested. It has always been clear that CRISPR, like other gene-editing techniques, can sometimes make alterations other than the intended one. These “off-target” changes are most likely to occur when the CRISPR machinery binds to DNA sequences very similar to the target one. For this reason, studies on the safety of CRISPR have usually looked to see if any sequences resembling the target sequences have been altered. Most have found few unwanted changes, suggesting CRISPR is safe. And some teams have already tweaked the CRISPR machinery to reduce these off-targets effects even more. The success of CRISPR gene editing can have a significant impact on health care as it seeks to accurately diagnose and find a cure for fatal diseases like cancer, hereditary diseases, and mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and dengue fever. So for now, the medical profession and scientific community who are understandably excited about the potential CRISPR can breathe a sigh of relief.

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