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Tag: human gene editing

CRISPR Cas9, too good to be true?

After its peak in popularity following its reveal as a possible “genetic modifier” in 2013, the CRISPR Cas-9 enzyme system has been the center of debate within the biology community. Thought to be the solution to all genetic and hereditary diseases by simply “cutting out” the fault gene, new research and studies have shown that a majority of people (65 to 79 percent) have antibodies that would fight cas-9 proteins.

“The study analyzed blood for antibodies to two bacteria from which Cas9 is derived: Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus. The researchers’ concern stemmed from the fact that these bacteria frequently cause infections in humans, and so antibodies to them may be in our blood” states

While the overall effects are unclear, the study concludes that the result would be “significant toxicity” and an unsafe use of the gene editing tool.

What do you think? Is the current risk of using Cas-9 worth the reward?

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Cas9, photo by J LEVIN W


CRISPR, A Cure to Heart Disease?

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     While CRISPR‘s full potential in the department of gene editing is still being researched, scientists have just successfully discovered CRISPR’s ability to correct a defective gene that causes a certain type of heart disease. Though scientists are unclear as to the type of gene corrected in order to cause this change, this discovery was made for the first time in the United States, by an experiment done on live human embryos. However the new information yielded from this experiment is extremely beneficial as it shows CRISPR’s potential in correcting genetic errors that cause disease, as well as in human embryos meant for pregnancy.

Another reason for which this study particularly stands out in its importance, is because it is much different from the other developments scientists have made in CRISPR’s abilities. Studies have been conducted worldwide using CRISPR to edit of somatic cell’s gnomes, however, this only affects individual people. This study (also done by researchers in China), has been done by editing germ line cells, which result in changes that are passed down through every following generation.

However since the changes made to cells do affect all generations that follow, scientists are unsure of the exact effects of this new technique. Although it seems that this technology will be very beneficial in stopping harmful genetic diseases, it can also be used for changing DNA to genetically determine the eye colors, height or even mental and physical abilities and intelligence. This new phenomenon is own as “designer babies”, and for many reasons, this is not something that the United States is trying to use CRISPR’s abilities for. For this reason, United States has recently created more severe guidelines regarding gene editing technology, as well as enforcing CRISPR’s use on embryos only for prevention of harmful genetic diseases, when other treatments were not successful – as a last resort – formed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

In the study done, scientists edited out a mutant copy of MYBPC3, using CRISPR. MYBPC3 is a gene that encodes a protein that creates well maintained and structured heart muscles. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, known as HCM, are caused by mutations in that gene, and cause spontaneous cardiac arrest. This occurs in even the youngest and healthiest of athletes, affecting 1 in 500 humans.

In this study, the mother was carrying the normal version of a gene, while the father had the mutant gene. Using CRISPR, the scientists were able fix the mutant version, by cutting and replacing the DNA. Directly after they placed the fertilized egg in a petri dish, while introducing the genome editing parts at the same time. The results of this process proved to be very effective, as 75% of the embryos showed no mutant genome. Without the use of CRISPR when egg fertilization occurred, the chances of mutation would have been present in 50%!

From these results the researchers came to the conclusion that they have realized the potential for mosaicism. Mosaicism is when only some of the cells are edited and the rest are not affected, which results in some normal cells, as well as some mutant cells. The scientists have also gathered the effects of off-targets. Off targets are the CRISPR edited genes that appear to look like mutant genes, but are actually not. Within this study, one egg fertilized from 58 showed mosaicism, and there was no detection of effects from off-targets. Theseare very impressive results, due to the fact that both of these possible situations can cause limitations in effectiveness and safety.

Though researchers need to do over this experiment many times in order to soliditfy the effectiveness of this study for the future, if they want to use this on eggs intended for pregnancy, as the eggs fertilized in the study were not meant for pregnancy… However, the results have yielded nothing but good news for the future of CRISPR technology (besides, the risk in advancements in “designer babies”, which couldchange the future of conceiving, forever…). This article was extremely interesting for me to read, as I am very interested in studying Biology in the future, or even pursuing a track to medicine. Perhaps, I may get the chance to even experiment with CRISPR at some time in my life, as it becomes a growing presence throughout the science world!

Primary Source Article: U.S. researchershave used gene editing to combat heart disease in human embryos

HIV Adapts to CRISPR-Cas9 Treatment

There has been an abundance of research using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to search for a cure for HIV. The HIV virus enters immune cells and uses the host cell’s method of replication to replicate the viral genome. With CRISPR/Cas9, specific mutations can be introduced in order to make it more challenging for the HIV virus to enter Helper T-Cells. Guided by specific strands of RNA, the Cas9 enzyme can cut a particular piece of the viral genome out, rendering it useless.

When a team of researchers at McGill University attempted to use the CRISPR method to disable the HIV viral genome, they found a major roadblock. Two weeks after the CRISPR/Cas9 treatment, the host cells appeared to be creating copies of the virus. This may be attributed to an error in the enzymes that copy the viral DNA, causing a change in the genome, and a mutation that allows it to evade the CRISPR treatment. However, the McGill researchers believe that this mutation was a result of the CRISPR treatment itself.

After DNA is cut by the Cas9 enzyme, the host cell usually attempts to repair the damage. Occasionally, this results in the addition or deletion of a few nitrogenous bases. While these changes usually result in the inactivation of the cut gene, sometimes they don’t. The active cut DNA is no longer recognized by the machinery used to prevent HIV infection of the cell, and the mutated viral genome is resistant to the usual methods of disablement.

More researchers at the University of Amsterdam had similar results in their research. While it is not that surprising that HIV can overcome the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing at some point, the leader of the research (Atze Das) said “What is surprising is the speed- how fast it goes”.

If CRISPR was used at the same time as HIV-attacking drugs (inhibitors of protease, reverse transcriptase, and integrase), perhaps the mutations would be less  detrimental. This roadblock does not mean that a CRISPR cure for HIV is impossible, but it does make it far more challenging to overcome.

The Grey Area of Human Gene Editing

The process of Human Gene Editing developed with the goal to prevent future generations from suffering from genetic diseases present in past generations, like our own. Human gene editing, provided it is done only to the correct disease, alters the DNA in embryos, eggs, and sperm to the when reproduction occurs, the gene for the disease or disability is not inherited. However, two weeks ago the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine issued a report stating that human gene editing is being used to enhance people’s health or abilities. This is considered unethical according to organizers of a Global Summit on human gene editing.

Human gene editing has been given a “yellow light” because the process is not yet approved to be done on people. There are high hopes that diseases caused by only 1 genetic mutation such cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease will be eliminated due to this process. Unfortunately diseases that are caused by more than one genetic mutation, such as autism or schizophrenia, are not curable by this process.

National Cancer Institute

Gene Editing on humans is such a controversial topic right now: is it ethical to change genes? should the practice be used to change physical appearances? Ultimately, if Human Gene Editing is approves, who decides when it becomes too much, or unethical. This grey area is presented to be somewhere between when it is appropriate to help aid the life of a human, ridding them of a disease, and when enhancements are made.


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