Saturday, 16 November 2019

Research: Gene Editing

We have talked before about DNA and the advances in DNA mapping, but this time the topic is altering DNA, particularly when it is defective.
Wikipedia says:
Genome editing, or genome engineering, or gene editing, is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in the genome of a living organism. Unlike early genetic engineering techniques that randomly inserts genetic material into a host genome, genome editing targets the insertions to site specific locations.

The rest of the article is way too scientific for me to grasp, but it’s all there if you want to read it. 

The idea of being able to create disease-resistant crops, or which give bigger yields, is a contentious issue. There are those who warn that we don’t know what other things may happen further down the line, while supporters say it’s the only way to feed to growing world population.
If the debate is hot over crops, it is incendiary over human gene editing. What begins with the cure of genetic diseases can progress to designer babies and even further to enhanced humans using DNA from animals to improve eyesight, smell or other attributes.
He Jiankui
In researching this I came across the world’s first genetically edited babies. Named Lulu and Nana, the twins were born in secrecy in China in October 2018. They were modified to be resistant to the HIV virus. The researcher He Jiankui had his research suspended when the news broke and has since been under investigation and possible house arrest.

This is a long way from the vision of A Brief History of the Future, which suggests that in 2140 the Fix Pill was produced for DNA editing of genetic errors. The pill contained several hundred gene editing molecules previously used individually, and self-replicated. The pill dissolved on the skin, it was not swallowed. A person only need one every ten years but rich people started taking one a month to try to live longer.

Is this a nightmare scenario or a brave new world? The website of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has a whole set of articles on Genome Editing and Human Reproduction if you want to know more.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

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