Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3 (Science & Technology)
Explain Gene Editing and its various techniques. Comment on the advantages and ethical issues involved in it? ( 10 Marks)
Gene editing (or genome editing) is the insertion, deletion or replacement of DNA at a specific site in the genome of an organism or cell. It is usually achieved in the lab using engineered nucleases also known as molecular scissors. Gene editing as the most promising technology can cure the genetic diseases by editing virulence genes. However, because of lacking an effective edit tool, the success rate of this technology is still in a low level. In addition, editing human genes means permanent change in human from generation to generation, which is ethically questioned by some biology scientists and social scientists
Different techniques that can be used to edit genes
- Zinc finger nuclease technology: Has been used longer than any other gene-editing method. First developed in the 1990s, this approach involves the binding of a pair of ZFNs to a DNA target.
- TALEN (transcription activator-like effectors nuclease) Developed in 2009 .TALENs are produced by a common type of plant bacteria. Like ZFNs, TALENs bind to and cut targeted DNA sequences. A key advantage the TALEN gene-editing method holds over ZFN is that engineering TALENs is simpler than using ZFNs.
- CRISPR (the biggest development in gene editing was the discovery of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs). The CRISPR method uses bacterial enzymes to target and cut specific sections of DNA. CRISPR is simpler and cheaper than earlier gene-editing methods.
Advantages of Gene editing:
- Cancer Therapeutics: New immune therapies can be developed using CRISPR to treat cancer. Scientists can genetically modify T-cells using CRISPR to locate and kill cancer cells.
- Curing Genetic Diseases: CRISPR technology can eliminate the genes that cause genetic diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis. Given that the scientific community has already mapped many genes that cause the genetic disease, CRISPR could be used to cure faulty genes that cause genetic diseases.
- Drug Research: Scientists are predicting that CRISPR could potentially speed up the drug discovery process given the technology is relatively cheap, precise and simple to use. Some of the drug makers in the world are already incorporating CRISPR technology in their drug research and discovery phase.
- Pest Resilient Crops: According to Jennifer Doudna, CRISPR pioneer, genome editing could address pest and nutrition challenges faced in agriculture, especially in light of climate change and rapid population growth.
Ethical issues involved in gene editing:
Ethical concerns over genetic modification are not new, particularly when it comes to humans.
- Biosafety and biosecurity concerns related to implications of technology.
- Due to the possibility of off-target effects (edits in the wrong place) and mosaicism (when some cells carry the edit but others do not), safety is of primary concern.
- Genome editing, even for therapeutic uses, will start us on a slippery slope to using it for non-therapeutic and enhancement purposes, which many view as controversial. Hence concerns about enhancement should be managed through policy and regulation.
- Informed Consent
- Some people worry that it is impossible to obtain informed consent for germline therapy because the patients affected by the edits are the embryo and future generations.
- Researchers and bioethicists also worry about the possibility of obtaining truly informed consent from prospective parents as long as the risks of therapy are unknown.
- Justice and Equity
- As with many new technologies, there is concern that genome editing will only be accessible to the wealthy and will increase existing disparities in access to health care and other interventions.
- There is a worry that taken to its extreme, genome editing could create classes of individuals defined by the quality of their engineered genome.
- Genome-Editing Research Involving Embryos
- Many people have moral and religious objections to the use of human embryos for research. Federal funds cannot be used for any research that creates or destroys embryos.
- Techno-eugenic race may harm the humanity.
- Failed trails will have adverse legal and ethical issues.
- Morality of eugenics, which is theory and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population.
- Gene drives or selection of genes for specific traits which changes the dynamics of genes and alters ecological balance.
To decide what role gene editing will play in our future, scientific and medical professionals must work hand-in-hand with members of the general public. Some countries have already allowed genome-editing research on nonviable embryos (those that could not result in a live birth), and others have approved genome-editing research studies with viable embryos Gene editing should be encouraged to enhance the advancements in field of science and improve the standard of living of people E.g.: CRISPR technology is targeting to treat the rare disease caused by mutation of one gene. At the same time a common guidelines need to be developed by international community’s which set the guidelines of what risks are acceptable and what are not. Like every new technology gene editing has two sides the need is to encourage the positive side while being cautious about negatives.
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