Genome edit­ing well un­der­way

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Na­tional Ge­o­graphic mag­a­zine in Au­gust 2016 pub­lished an ar­ti­cle on ‘The DNA Rev­o­lu­tion.’ In the ar­ti­cle Dr. Jen­nifer Doudna of Berke­ley, co-dis­cov­erer of a gene edit­ing tech­nol­ogy, asks the ques­tion: “What are the un­in­tended con­se­quences of genome edit­ing? Her an­swer is “I don’t know that we know enough about the hu­man genome, or maybe any other genome, to fully an­swer that ques­tion. But peo­ple will use the tech­nol­ogy whether we know enough about it or not.”

The ar­ti­cle lists four ap­pli­ca­tions of gene edit­ing: (1) treat­ing dis­ease, (2) al­ter­ing ecol­ogy, (3) trans­form­ing food and (4) edit­ing hu­mans. True to Dr. Doudna’s ex­pec­ta­tions, lab­o­ra­tory ex­per­i­ments are tak­ing place in all four ar­eas.

In 2016 the J. Craig Ven­ter In­sti­tute in La Jolla, Calif. en­gi­neered a ‘syn­thetic bac­te­ria’ with a genome of 473 genes, fewer genes than any known free-liv­ing bac­te­ria. How­ever, 65 of the genes have no known func­tion but are re­quired for sur­vival. Hu­mans have a genome of 20,000 genes plus the genome of our gut bac­te­ria.

Dr. Eric Lan­der, director of the Broad In­sti­tute of Har­vard and MIT, says: “If you are go­ing to do any­thing as fate­ful as rewrit­ing the germ line, you’d bet­ter be able to tell me there’s a strong rea­son to do it. Any you’d bet­ter be able to say that so­ci­ety made a choice to do this – that un­less there’s broad agree­ment, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen. Sci­en­tist don’t have stand­ing to an­swer these ques­tions and I’m not sure who does.”

Tony Lloyd,

Mount Ste­wart

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