Podcast: CRISPR-edited weed; opioid addiction vaccine; Africa’s neglected diseases

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An opioid-blocking vaccine could spare many people a lifetime of drug addiction, if and when it’s developed. COVID-19 exposed Africa’s inability to mitigate a pandemic; the silver lining is that it focused a spotlight on neglected tropical diseases that plague countries on the continent. Researchers in Israel are using CRISPR gene editing to improve cannabis production, helping ensure a stable supply of medical marijuana for patients all over the world.

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP editor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

A vaccine for opioid addiction could spare many people a lifetime of drug decadency, and all the tragic side effects that come with it. Three candidate vaccines are currently undergoing clinical trials, but a new study suggests that such a drug may not be effective when it’s most needed, because the body’s immune system may counteract the vaccine’s effect.

Drug policy reform advocates have also challenged the ethics of developing an opioid vaccine. Why, they ask, should the federal government invest money in a speculative vaccine when it could fund proven harm-reduction strategies that ultimately reduce drug use? Moreover, could people convicted of drug offenses be required to get an opioid immunization, and who would pay for it?

Plagued by conflict, corrupt governments, poverty and lacking health care infrastructure, Africa was woefully unprepared to combat the coronavirus that rapidly made its way across the globe early in 2020. COVID-19 didn’t strike Africa as hard as it did other parts of the world, fortunately enough, but it has highlighted a critical and often overlooked problem in Africa: neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

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As the name implies, these conditions get little attention from the international medical community, because they primarily afflict people in poor countries. A small contingency of infectious disease experts and philanthropies is committed to helping governments tackle the problem, however Africa ultimately has to reform its political institutions and invest in the health care infrastructure that can prevent and treat NTDs.

Researchers are improving all sorts of crops with CRISPR gene editing: everything from wheat, tomatoes and apples—to cannabis. A biotech startup in Israel is utilizing the powerful new breeding technique to develop disease-resistant marijuana that can be easily grown from seed (instead of cloned) under greenhouse conditions, the goal being to produce a more stable supply of medical-grade cannabis for patients all over the world.

Related article:  'At home' coronavirus test? How CRISPR could change the way we search for COVID-19

Subscribe to the Science Facts and Fallacies Podcast on iTunes and Spotify.

Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s managing editor. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

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