The Road Ahead for Genome Edit­ing

BioSpectrum (India) - - BIO CONTENT - DR SUPRIYA SHIVAKUMAR, Head of Strat­egy, Gene Edit­ing & Novel Modal­i­ties, Life Sci­ence busi­ness of Merck

Genome edit­ing has dom­i­nated the head­lines as the “fu­ture of bi­ol­ogy” over the past few years. This trans­for­ma­tive tech­nol­ogy can pro­vide the abil­ity to cure dis­eases at the ge­nomic level.

It is ac­com­plished by en­abling per­ma­nent mod­i­fi­ca­tions of ge­nomic DNA through the use of so-called “ge­netic scis­sors” that re­move, re­place or change an ex­ist­ing gene with an un­prece­dented com­bi­na­tion of flex­i­bil­ity, ef­fi­ciency and ac­cu­racy.

An apt sim­ile is com­par­ing a word pro­ces­sor that edits text to the process of genome en­gi­neer­ing which in­volves the cut­ting and past­ing of DNA into the genome. From the in­tro­duc­tion of Zinc

Fin­ger Nu­cle­ases and Tran­scrip­tion ac­ti­va­tor-like ef­fec­tor nu­cle­ases (TALENs), to the cur­rent tech­nol­ogy of CRISPR (Clus­tered Reg­u­larly In­ter­spaced Short Palin­dromic Re­peats), the rise of genome edit­ing has been rapid in all ar­eas of re­search. The new­est tool in the tech­nol­ogy tool­box, CRISPR, has been shown to be pre­cise, in­ex­pen­sive and easy to use and has been rapidly adopted world­wide. There is no doubt about the prom­ise that CRISPR holds for ther­a­peu­tic, agri­cul­tural and re­search ap­pli­ca­tions.

In­dia has re­cently en­tered the world stage in genome edit­ing by a re­cent pub­li­ca­tion (Kaur, N.,

Alok, A., Shivani et al. Funct In­tegr Ge­nomics (2018) 18: 89) il­lus­trat­ing the func­tional dis­rup­tion of two

PDS genes via genome edit­ing to mod­ify ba­nana plants. This use of genome ma­nip­u­la­tion in agri­cul­ture is bol­stered by the re­cent state­ment from the United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) that they will not reg­u­late plants (with some re­stric­tions) that could have oth­er­wise been de­vel­oped through tra­di­tional breed­ing tech­niques.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2017-2018 re­port from the Na­tional Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Man­age­ment In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem un­der the Depart­ment of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, there has been a steady in­crease in re­search and de­vel­op­ment ex­pen­di­ture, pa­tent fil­ings and pub­li­ca­tions.

With these trends, In­dia is poised to ap­ply genome edit­ing to a va­ri­ety of ap­pli­ca­tions in agri­cul­ture and hu­man health. The most use­ful ther­a­peu­tic and agri­cul­tural so­lu­tions start at the re­search bench, be­fore be­ing op­ti­mized for the clinic or agri­cul­ture. Genome-edit­ing tech­nol­ogy is not yet as com­mon a lab­o­ra­tory re­search tool in In­dia as in other parts of the world, but adop­tion is well un­der­way, es­pe­cially with CRISPR.

As In­dia tran­si­tions CRISPR into the stan­dard tool­box for bi­ol­ogy re­search and ex­plores the mul­ti­tude of ap­pli­ca­tions in­clud­ing an­i­mal health, dis­ease pre­ven­tion and treat­ment, and plant breed­ing, a num­ber of eth­i­cal and so­ci­etal ques­tions will arise. De­mand for ther­a­pies will in­crease the pres­sure to move quickly and In­dia should en­deavor to have a clear reg­u­la­tory path to deal with the de­sire for rapid ap­provals. Reg­u­la­tions that help guide the path to safer and pre­dicted out­comes should be put in place proac­tively.

CRISPR tech­nol­ogy, de­spite its rapid rise to promi­nence, is still in its in­fancy. Cre­at­ing an in­fra­struc­ture that al­lows for checks and bal­ances for ro­bust re­pro­ducible re­search and ap­pli­ca­tions re­quires wide­spread ed­u­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion to al­low the tech­nol­ogy to reach its po­ten­tial. From higher yield crops ca­pa­ble of feed­ing more peo­ple, to bet­ter health and cures, In­dia is well­po­si­tioned to help CRISPR de­liver its prom­ise of trans­form­ing possibilities into re­al­i­ties.

IN­DIA IS POISED TO AP­PLY GENOME EDIT­ING TO A VA­RI­ETY OF AP­PLI­CA­TIONS IN AGRI­CUL­TURE AND HU­MAN HEALTH. THE MOST USE­FUL THER­A­PEU­TIC AND AGRI­CUL­TURAL SO­LU­TIONS START AT THE RE­SEARCH BENCH, BE­FORE BE­ING OP­TI­MIZED FOR THE CLINIC OR AGRI­CUL­TURE. GENOMEEDITING TECH­NOL­OGY IS NOT YET AS COM­MON A LAB­O­RA­TORY RE­SEARCH TOOL IN IN­DIA AS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD.

DR SUPRIYA SHIVAKUMAR,

Head of Strat­egy, Gene Edit­ing & Novel Modal­i­ties, Life Sci­ence busi­ness of Merck

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