A new effective and simple way to edit DNA is called CRISPR. It allows us to edit sections of DNA by adding, removing or altering a sequence of gene editing techniques, CRISPR achieves its accuracy by two key elements: an enzyme that causes a cut on both strands of DNA, and a guide that allows it to target specific sections of the genome.
Most DNA is double stranded; CRISPR makes sure that both DNA strands are correctly edited. We can also ensure that every time the DNA is replicated, the new strands will be stably inherited, making a long-lasting change to the organism's genetic makeup.
CRISPR also has the ability to create gene drives. This means that instead of having approximately 50 per cent chance of inheriting an edited gene, it now has close to a 100 per cent chance. This is called gene-drive inheritance, and this feature is going to revolutionise the way we tackle problems.
Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria cause millions of deaths worldwide each year. CRISPR could potentially prevent this by altering the DNA of the mosquito to make the mosquito unable to carry the parasites, viruses or bacteria which cause disease. This new mosquito will quickly spread through the local population because of the gene-drive inheritance. Research into this is already well under way and has had promising results so far.
Gene editing and CRISPR can also play a major role feeding the world's population.
CRISPR helps alter the genetics of crops so they can grow under harsher conditions and with fewer resources needed to keep the plants alive. Scientists could also pack the plants with nutrients or change their growth behaviour so that they could potentially grow larger, faster and all year round.
Due to CRISPR's accuracy and effectiveness, human gene editing (human gene therapy) is poised to be the next medical breakthrough of this century. Already gene editing therapies are available on the market and is revolutionising the health industry. However, key ethical concerns must be discussed before these therapeutics become readily available to the public.
The Australian National University is conducting a survey on what Australians think about human gene editing. Have your say at www.surveymonkey.com/r/STFS9K7
Response by: Michel Watson PhD Researcher, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science
The Fuzzy Logic Science Show is 1100am Sundays on 2xx 98.3FM. Send your questions to AskFuzzy@Zoho.com Twitter @FuzzyLogicSci