31 May, 2020
5 Min Read
CRISPR-Cas9 - Gene Editing
Part of: GS-III- S&T (PT-MAINS-PERSONALITY TEST)
A Chinese researcher recently claimed that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin girls. The genes were claimed to be “edited” to ensure that they do not get infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. If proven, it would be the first instance of human offspring having been produced with specific desired attributes, using newly-developed tools of gene “editing”.
What are Genes and what is gene- editing?
Genes contain the bio-information that defines any individual. Physical attributes like height, skin or hair colour, more subtle features and even behavioural traits can be attributed to information encoded in the genetic material.
An ability to alter this information gives scientists the power to control some of these features. Gene “editing” — sometimes expressed in related, but not always equivalent, terms like genetic modification, genetic manipulation or genetic engineering — is not new.
What is CRISPR-Cas9?
The clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) (CRISPR-Cas9) system has revolutionised genetic manipulations and made gene editing simpler, faster and easily accessible to most laboratories.
CRISPR technology is basically a gene-editing technology that can be used for the purpose of altering genetic expression or changing the genome of an organism.
How it works?
CRISPR-Cas9 technology behaves like a cut-and-paste mechanism on DNA strands that contain genetic information.
Concerns: Tampering with the genetic code in human beings is more contentious. Leading scientists in the field have for long been calling for a “global pause” on clinical applications of the technology in human beings, until internationally accepted protocols are developed.
Study by Stanford University, U.S., found that the CRISPR-Cas9 system introduces unexpected off-target (outside of the intended editing sites) effects in mice. The fear that the CRISPR system is being prematurely rushed for clinical use lingers. Three recent reports have exacerbated this fear even further.
Conclusion: This CRISPR technology is indeed a path-breaking technology, to alter genes in order to tackle a number of conventional and unconventional problems, especially in the health sector. However, experiments and tests to validate its use must be subjected to appropriate scrutiny by the regulators, and their use must be controlled to prevent commercial misuse.
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