There is very exciting news in the world of biology right now. For the first time ever, according to the University of California San Francisco‘s chancellor, Sam Hawgood, CRISPR gene editing will be delivered to a human in an attempt to study how gene editing can help with asthma.
CRISPR-Cas 9 was adapted from a naturally occurring genome that allows bacteria to fight off viruses. When a bacteria was infected with a virus, it would use this genome to take pieces of the DNA from the virus and add them to its own DNA to create a pattern known as a ‘CRISPR array.’ The ‘CRISPR array’ allows the bacteria to remember the virus and cut the DNA of the virus apart.
In 2021, Peter Turnbaugh administered CRISPR into mice in order to target a specific gene and edit it out of the mouses gut. It was this work that inspired the scientists at UCSF to experiment with adding the CRISPR to a human microbiome.
Asthma is the perfect place to start because there is a clear microbial target to attack. There is a molecule that is produced by bacteria in the human gut that can trigger asthma in childhood. The scientists goal is to stop the microbes from producing that molecule, rather than remove the microbe altogether, as that microbe plays other beneficial roles in the human body. By taking a small piece of sgRNA, the scientists would be able to attach that to the target sequence in the DNA of the bacteria that produces that molecule, and ultimately stop the bacteria from producing the molecule that causes asthma.
This can be related to the topic of DNA and Genes that I learned about in AP bio. While reading the UCSF article, I couldn’t help but think about DNA replication, and what implications gene editing would have on DNA replication.
As we learned in AP bio, DNA replication is the process by which a cell copies its DNA before cell division, ensuring that each daughter cell receives a complete set of genetic instructions. During replication, the double-stranded DNA molecule is unwound and separated into two strands, each of which serves as a template for the synthesis of a new complementary strand. The result is two identical copies of the original DNA molecule.
If the scientists at UCSF were able to edit the genes to properly stop the microbes from producing the molecule that causes asthma, would that trait now be passed on to the new complementary strands? Would this gene editing get passed on through DNA replication, and even further would it be passed on to gametes? If both parents were to get this gene edited, would their zygotes now also be immune to asthma, and if so it is almost as if this gene editing is affecting natural selection and evolution.
All of this was very interesting to me and it seems that if/when this becomes a regular part of society, it will have major implications on the way our species sees diseases in the future.
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