Jennifer Doudna: We can now edit our DNA. But let’s do it wisely-3

Genome engineering is actually not new, it’s been in development since the 1970s. We’ve had technologies for sequencing DNA, for copying DNA, and even for manipulating DNA. And these technologies were very promising, but the problem was that they were either inefficient, or they were difficult enough to use that most scientists had not adopted them for use in their own laboratories, or certainly for many clinical applications. So, the opportunity to take a technology like CRISPR and utilize it has appeal, because of its relative simplicity. We can think of older genome engineering technologies as similar to having to rewire your computer each time you want to run a new piece of software, whereas the CRISPR technology is like software for the genome, we can program it easily, using these little bits of RNA.

So once a double-stranded break is made in DNA, we can induce repair, and thereby potentially achieve astounding things, like being able to correct mutations that cause sickle cell anemia or cause Huntington’s Disease. I actually think that the first applications of the CRISPR technology are going to happen in the blood, where it’s relatively easier to deliver this tool into cells, compared to solid tissues.

Right now, a lot of the work that’s going on applies to animal models of human disease, such as mice.The technology is being used to make very precise changes that allow us to study the way that these changes in the cell’s DNA affect either a tissue or, in this case, an entire organism.

Now in this example, the CRISPR technology was used to disrupt a gene by making a tiny change in the DNA in a gene that is responsible for the black coat color of these mice. Imagine that these white mice differ from their pigmented litter-mates by just a tiny change at one gene in the entire genome, and they’re otherwise completely normal. And when we sequence the DNA from these animals, we find that the change in the DNA has occurred at exactly the place where we induced it, using the CRISPR technology.

Additional experiments are going on in other animals that are useful for creating models for human disease, such as monkeys. And here we find that we can use these systems to test the application of this technology in particular tissues, for example, figuring out how to deliver the CRISPR tool into cells. We also want to understand better how to control the way that DNA is repaired after it’s cut, and also to figure out how to control and limit any kind of off-target, or unintended effects of using the technology.

Om Namah Shivay

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