General, Research, Technology

Genome editing. Greatest good or absolute evil?

Humanity has several "Pandora's boxes"which are better not to open. Even if the desire or need to open it nevertheless appeared, then this should be done with the utmost care. One of these boxes is genetic engineering and genome editing. Everything seems to be beautiful in this story. We can get a cure for all diseases, we can become super people, we can get offspring that will be ten times better than us, and much more. We can even save ourselves from the need to seek the elixir of immortality by simply tweaking our genes a little before birth. You might think that this is a wonderful world that we deserve, but do not rush to rejoice, because as in the famous saying, we can get "the world we deserve." Naturally, in a bad way. By opening this box, we can make sure that we will never be the same, but where are the guarantees that the new “we” will really be better and will not lead ourselves to the decline of humanity?

Editing the genome is changing everything.

Content

  • 1 Genetic engineering
  • 2 Protection against viruses at the DNA level
  • 3 How the genome can be edited
  • 4 CRISPR genome editing
  • 5 Application of genetic engineering in industry
  • 6 Retroviral infections
  • 7 Is it worth banning genetic research

Genetic Engineering

Now an increasing number of governments around the world are preparing to allow experiments on editing the genome in human embryos. Some countries have even allowed it already, eg UK.

In fairness, until we talk abouta completely ready person with altered genes, but everything goes to this. Do you understand? So far, the UK allows experiments only on embryos grown in laboratory conditions. Moreover, they must must be destroyed after 14 days after the start of the experiment. That is, formally, this does not threaten us. The only question is why it is needed by the person who allowed it. Obviously not out of curiosity. Something suggests that, like many advanced developments, at first it will be used for military purposes, because this is how you can get a universal soldier. He will not be hungry or thirsty. He will not be tired or afraid of explosions. A small gene tweak and the super soldier is ready.

Life on Earth could appear as a result of a hybrid of DNA and RNA molecules

Furthermore! Such a method of influence, if humanity learns it, can get out of control... Or simply "in the wrong hands" it can becomea weapon of genocide. As you can see, there are much more dark consequences than rainbow ones. Therefore, before doing something like this, you must thoroughly weigh the pros and cons. Even cloning against this background can seem like sweet fun. Although initially everyone was against it.

Maybe you shouldn't touch it?

But maybe there is still something positive in thisand can scientists be given a chance to prove they did not discover editing tools for nothing? What benefits can gene editing bring to humans?

Virus protection at the DNA level

At the heart of gene editing and understandingWhy is this even necessary, there were studies of bacteria, which showed how they developed protection against bacteriophages. Scientists were particularly interested in how this protection affects DNA strands and, at the same time, is transferred to new generations of bacteria.

The name of bacteriophages comes from the ancient Greek "devour"... The name is not accidental, because these are viruses thatselectively infect bacterial and archaeal cells. Also, the bacterium serves as a breeding ground for the virus. The bacteriophage consists of a protein coat and genetic material. The total number of bacteriophages in nature is approximately equal to the total number of bacteria. Bacteriophages have a greater influence on the evolution of bacteria.

Moreover, certain signs of gene changesfound initially in the bacteria E. coli. Scientists noticed certain repetitive fragments that were separated by spacers, but then they could not explain this. Later, a similar cassette structure was found in other representatives of prokaryotes. Then they were given an abbreviated name CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats)... Translated into Russian, it may sound likeKSPRRG (short palindromic repeats, regularly arranged in groups). This abbreviation looks just awful and easier to use the succinct word CRISPR.

Later it turned out that those same spacers are veryThey look like pieces of DNA of bacteriophage viruses and are part of the defense mechanism of bacteria developed during evolution. Scientists have proposed a mechanism by which the Cas protein associated with CRISPR allows find foreign DNAwhen the virus enters the bacterial cell. If the DNA of the virus matches the information that the bacterium has, then foreign DNA is cut and infection is prevented.

Bacteriophages not only live off bacteria, but also multiply in them.

Scientists have conducted a number of experiments, during whichchanged the genome of bacteria and observed how other bacteriophages affected them. The results proved that the mechanism works exactly as they thought. They also confirmed that when a bacterium encounters a new virus for itself, it can cut out part of its DNA and insert them into your CRISPR cassette... Then these "records" are passed on to descendants.

How the genome can be edited

Scientists have suggested several waysgene editing. In particular, it was possible to create certain artificial sequences that could recognize certain sections of DNA. As a result, the Cas9 protein would make the cuts exactly where it was needed. In parallel with the development of such a method, it was proved that making changes in this way is possible not only at the level of bacteria, but also in the cells of other organisms.

What is a DNA test, how is it done and what is it for?

There are other ways to edit the genome. For example, with the help of artificial enzymes that do not exist in nature, but which are capable of cleaving the DNA chain. They are also called zinc fingers. This is due to the fact that this protein module includes one or more zinc ions.

Editing genes is possible, but difficult.

This method required a complex approach and a longpreparation. For each cut in certain parts of the genome, it was necessary to synthesize a specific protein. In addition, this method of editing often led to errors, since the cuts often took place in the wrong places. This proves once again that the probability of error is very high, and inaccuracies at the initial stages can lead to the fact that failures will snowball.

CRISPR genome editing

CRISPR-Cas system in terms of editinggenome is simpler and more reliable. The main thing is only to synthesize correctly what will indicate where the DNA should be cut. Then the recovery mechanism will start and everything will be done almost by itself. Moreover, if you make a lot of such cuts, you can program the necessary changes in a fairly large piece of DNA.

You can even remove entire sections of DNAif required. At the same time, in place of the deleted fragments, those areas that will be needed by geneticists will be built in. This will allow you to edit “broken” sequences that lead to serious illness. In theory, you just need to replace the desired fragment and everything should be fine.

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You yourself understand that the first question will be "ais it possible to embed the required part of the code? " Of course, over time, this will become possible. It is then that whole new nations can begin to emerge. But, most likely, the matter will be limited to a small group of narrow specialists, like people who can withstand flights to other planets, or soldiers who will not get tired. People will find how to benefit from it... Especially governments and investors who invest huge amounts of money in development. And not all of them do this to save humanity from diseases. Alas, this is the reality.

Application of genetic engineering in industry

Moreover, we can safely say that genetic modification is already being used in practice to achieve certain results. I'm talking about genetically modified organisms - GMOs.

The simplest example is how to understandthe advantages of the method, and for the geneticists themselves, is the creation of modified lactic acid bacteria. The fact is that when bacteriophage viruses enter the ferment during production, they destroy the culture of beneficial microorganisms. As a result, this leads to the fact that the batch is spoiled, and the manufacturer incurs huge losses. That is why microorganisms resistant to bacteriophages solve a lot of problems.

If bacteriophages enter production, huge volumes of production simply disappear.

Retroviral infections

Relatively recently, I already talked about howwe are all carriers of retroviruses or, as they are also called, relic viruses. Among them is HIV, which millions of years ago incorporated its genome into our DNA and we continue to pass it on from generation to generation.

Scientific Reports even hadpublished a paper that shows how CRISPR-Cas9 can get rid of this inheritance and even eliminate the possibility of reinsertion of the virus into DNA.

Chinese scientists have even carried out experiments inthis direction and ensured the birth of two genetically modified people. They were twin girls, one of whose parents was HIV-positive. As a result, they were born with robust immunity to the virus. The problem is that the experiment was beyond legitimacy, but overall it worked out.

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Also in another work published in NatureBiotechnology, it is proved that with the help of the modified Cas9 protein, it is possible to disable genes that interfere with the normal degeneration of cells and lead to malignant tumors. That is, it could potentially become a long-awaited cure for cancer. But such an intervention would not lead to the fact that the reproduction of new cells will become even worse.

Should you ban genetic research?

Of course, now we cannot say that alreadytomorrow we run the risk of undesirable consequences of genome editing. Firstly, research is still underway and has not done something really serious. Secondly, even when the mass use of technology on humans begins, it will be possible to understand the true consequences only after several generations. Unfortunately, this state of affairs can relax some scientists, because in fact they will not have any responsibility. However, this is unlikely, but it is still possible.

The main thing is not to be carried away by the seeming ease of gene editing. It is not known what this will result in.

While scientists are cautious in predicting the likelihood of such changes in the human genome, which will make him someone else, but in the future it is still possible. Even if CRISPR won't do it, there will be another way, but it will be.

Here you can already raise questions about the ethics ofthat some people will initially be better than others from birth. In addition, questions arise as to how correct it is to interfere with the human genome without his knowledge. Maybe when a person who is different from the others appears from the modified one, he himself will not be happy about it. It's one thing when he naturally has a certain hair color, eye shape and ear shape, and it's another thing when someone decided for him what he should be. Here's another dilemma for the future. And it's up to you to decide whether to prohibit genome editing. Everyone has their own opinion, which can and should be shared in our Telegram chat.

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