Saturday, August 13, 2016

Modified


We are on the brink of curing cancer using a new break through called CRISPR...


We actually did this by studying an ancient battle. Not the kind of war you're thinking of like Rome against Carthage, but the one between bacteria and viruses. These two microorganisms have been fighting each other since the dawn of time. Which side wins actually has to do with DNA recognition. When viruses hunt down bacteria, they insert their own genetic code into the bacteria to kill them. The bacteria who are weaker (like Carthage) try to resist but fail most of the time. The clue comes to us however, when they survive. If they survive, they save a part of the virus DNA into their own genetic code, in an DNA archive. Called CRISPR, this information is safely stored away. When the virus mercenaries show up again, the bacteria are ready, arming a secret weapon called CAS9. CAS9, like a quiet librarian inside a library, takes the virus DNA coding and compares it to the sample in his archive. When he finds 100% match he cuts out the Virus DNA making it useless. The bacteria wins.


Whats very special about all this, is that CAS9 is its not just for microorganisms. Precise and programable, scientists can use CAS9 like a GPS system for human, plant and animal DNA. Precise, cheap and easy, this recent biomedical discovery offers us the ability to modify our own cells, switch genes on and off and fix our own DNA. We are still in a first generation stages, but more precise usage is being perfected as you read this blog.


In 2015 scientists used CRISPR to cut out HIV from cells in a lab proving it was possible. CRISPR was then used on HIV rats. Injecting CRISPR into their tails, it removed 50% of HIV DNA from the infected rat. In a few decades - or most likely years, prepare yourself for an HIV cure and wiping out other viruses that plague the human race like Herpes which hide inside human DNA. Once more CRISPR could also defeat one of our worst enemies - cancer. What this means is you could get an injection someday of your own cells engineered in a lab, healing you forever.


In fact over 3,000 diseases are caused by an incorrect letter in our DNA. We have already developed a CAS9 to fix just this one letter...
So far there is only one drawback. The cure would be limited to the individual. So when they die, so does the treatment. But CRISPR will eventually become a way to modify humans. Causing irreversible changes to the gene pool. Regardless of your views on genetic engineering it will affect us all and very soon. Eventually when these engineered traits are passed onto children, we will modify the gene pool of the human race. Modified humans could become the new standard much like the movie "Gattica."


What if we developed and sold a few special CAS9's built to identify genes that control aging? Maybe certain anti aging CAS9's will cost a million. A few others for disease - will only cost a hundred. The Cancer Society will become a thing of the past and CAS9's will become the trade. There are challenges ahead of us, ethical as well, but the future of medicine is at a crossroads with today. But then again, it always has been.


https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608350/first-human-embryos-edited-in-us/