Gene editing – and what it really means to rewrite the code of life

We now have a precise way to correct, replace or even delete faulty DNA. Ian Sample explains the science, the risks and what the future may hold

So what is gene editing?
Scientists liken it to the find and replace feature used to correct misspellings in documents written on a computer. Instead of fixing words, gene editing rewrites DNA, the biological code that makes up the instruction manuals of living organisms. With gene editing, researchers can disable target genes, correct harmful mutations, and change the activity of specific genes in plants and animals, including humans.

What’s the point?
Much of the excitement around gene editing is fuelled by its potential to treat or prevent human diseases. There are thousands of genetic disorders that can be passed on from one generation to the next; many are serious and debilitating. They are not rare: one in 25 children is born with a genetic disease. Among the most common are cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia and muscular dystrophy. Gene editing holds the promise of treating these disorders by rewriting the corrupt DNA in patients’ cells. But it can do far more than mend faulty genes. Gene editing has already been used to modify people’s immune cells to fight cancer or be resistant to HIV infection. It could also be used to fix defective genes in human embryos and so prevent babies from inheriting serious diseases. This is controversial because the genetic changes would affect their sperm or egg cells, meaning the genetic edits and any bad side effects could be passed on to future generations.

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Source: American Feeds

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