The [CRISPR] technique is significant because it gives genetic biologists a powerful tool for gene editing. More importantly, it’s cheap. “The major impact of CRISPR has been in developing new model systems, cells and animals, that are more rapid to develop and much more accurate than previous genetic models,” [said] Dr Ed Wild, from the University College-London Institute of Neurology.
It gives rise to a huge range of opportunities. Plans are underway to edit allergens in peanuts, create mushrooms that don’t brown and breed genetically-engineered mosquitoes that cannot transmit malaria. There is even a project to bring back the woolly mammothfrom extinction.
But it doesn’t stop there. CRISPR is already being used to edit pig DNA so their organs can be transplanted into humans; China is using CRISPR-edited cells in living humans, to inject cancer-fighting white blood cells into a patient. The technique could also be used to target illnesses such as system fibrosis, sickle-cell anaemia and Huntington’s disease.
However, there is a long road ahead. “Editing the genomes of embryos is much easier in principle, but many genetic conditions don’t require it because a proportion of embryos are ‘naturally’ free from the mutation already,” Dr Wild added.
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