Hello everybody! Today we are going to be talking about gene editing. We now have the technology to edit our own DNA! We will discuss what DNA is, why we would even want to edit our own DNA, how we even do it, the positives and negatives of gene editing, the history of editing genes, how to read your DNA, and how the prices of getting your DNA altered have fallen drastically. I hope you enjoy!
What is DNA?
DNA is like the instruction manuals for an organism. Your genes can influence things like your height, and eye color.
Sometimes there are errors, more better known as mutations in our DNA that can sometimes cause serious illnesses. These diseases cannot be caught by someone coughing or sneezing on you, it is passed on through genes. So the only way you can get it is if your DNA accidentally made an error while shuffling your parents genes to make you, or if your parent had a mutation in their DNA and passed it on to you.
How can we prevent these genetic illnesses?
That’s where gene editing comes in.
The genes that we have is a combination of the genes our parents have. Our bodies use the combination of our parents genes to create an entirely new set of genes for ourselves. Sometimes one or both of our parents have a mutation in their genes. Since we get a shuffled new set of genes based off of our parents genes, you would have a 50% chance of getting the mutation in your genes as well.
Also, even if your parents don't have any mutations in their genes, you may get them due to things going wrong when writing your DNA. If you do develop these mutations, your children will have a 50% chance of having your mutation as well.
We now have the technology to actually modify, or completely eliminate certain parts of your DNA that are causing these diseases. The way we are doing this is basically this, identifying which genes need to be altered, taken out, or swapped out with different genes...and then cutting the pieces of DNA.
So how do we find mutations is this microscopic manual we call DNA? We use a certain specialized protein called CRISPR.
CRISPER stands for…
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats
But in more simple terms is a special kind of protein that can be found in bacteria and other microorganisms. These special proteins can be specifically linked to specific coordinates in DNA to find. The protein searches in the DNA until they find the exact coordinates they were designed to find. Scientists are able to create many variations of this protein to search for different coordinates that can be found in someone's DNA.
This is helpful because without a way to find specific things in your DNA, we wouldn’t know what things we need to change or take out!
The next step is to use something called Cas9 to cut out the part of your DNA that has been identified by CRISPR.
Cas9 is an enzyme that is able to go into the DNA sequence and snips through the DNA either replacing it, changing it, or altering it. This is all done at the same time so that when a strip of your DNA is snipped away, another sequence is put in its place immediately.
Using the gene editing system it basically updates your DNA, your instruction manual, by making these microscopic changes.
Scientists have also found another way to cut out sections of your DNA called Cas3. Cas3 is another version of Cas9 that is able to be more precise, and cut out larger sections than Cas9 can. There are probably other enzymes that will be discovered that will make gene editing more and more precise!
What are the positive and negative sides of gene editing?
By using gene editing, we are able to make big changes to our lives. But while gene editing is at such an early state of production, we need to look at the good and bad sides of what it could possibly start to do in the future, and what it is already doing.
First, let's look at the positive things it has and can do for us.
Gene editing is already making radical improvements on human health. Like in 2015 when a little girl was cured of leukemia when doctors edited the cancer out of her DNA! 🙂
In the future we may also be able to get rid of some of the genes that cause cancer. Help with HIV/AIDS. And eliminate the genes that cause hereditary diseases. For plants we can edit the genes to be more nutritious, less likely to carry diseases, and be able to grow in harsh conditions. For animals, we can edit their genes to prevent diseases.
Currently, scientists are working on editing the genes of mosquitoes to try and prevent them from carrying malaria.
All of these things are great, but gene editing also has potential for negative causes.
You could alter the genes when the baby is still an embryo and alter things like eye color and hair color that give no real health benefit. This could be used to produce designer babies that are processed, and have many alterations to their genes. Also, once you get your genes altered, it doesn’t only affect you, but all of your descendants which could add up to thousands of people.
This could also be used for companies to make designer pets.
Also, there is the potential for people to alter bacteria to make extremely harmful viruses and unleash it everywhere.
So while there are many positive benefits to be gained from gene editing, there are many negative factors we have to consider.
How long have we been modifying genes?
We have been modifying genes for a very long time. While there haven’t been any gene modifying to ourselves early on, we have found out ways to modify other animals and plants. We are able to do this by cross breeding different plants. The earliest corn cobs were only an inch long! But by cross breeding they were able to grow into the corn cobs we know today.
By altering the genes of a plant we are able to make them bigger, taste better, and sustain in harsh environments.
Back then, however, farmers didn’t know that they are altering genes. And how they cross breed plants was just by looking at the different traits they wanted in their crops. If something was bigger, and the farmer liked that, perhaps they would cross breed it with something that they thought was too small.
Now, with the technology to gene edit, we can take it up to the next level, and instead of cross breeding plants, we can edit their genes directly. This technology is faster to use than the previous way of cross breeding, pretty simple to do as well, and relatively cheap.
How can I find out if I have a genetic disease?
While CRISPR can search for certain things in your DNA, there are more practical ways to read your DNA to find certain genetic diseases.
For example, there is a company called Illumina that reads your DNA through either blood tests or using your saliva. The price of getting your DNA tested has been dropping rapidly. This is generally a bad thing because the profit margin the company gets would have to be smaller. But Illumina’s goal is to make DNA testing available for everyone. People should know whether or not they have a mutation in their DNA!
The price is dropping %30 to %40 every year. And they predict the testing to cost $100 dollars pretty soon. Who knows! Maybe we’ll get our DNA tested at annual checkups!
How drastically have prices fallen?
A base pair is two letters of DNA. These are the four letters that make up your DNA…
A, G, T, C… these are all one base. So a base pair, is two bases.
C only connects with G and A only connects with T. And vice-versa...so T could also connect with A and G could connect with C.
There are around six billion of these letters arranged in all sorts of patterns that make up your DNA.
Here is an example of a base pair...
Here’s how fast the price is dropping is the gene editing market.
In 2013, there was a new technology developed called Zinc Finger Nuclease. But the cost was extremely expensive at $5,500 per base pair. So to change two letters of your DNA, it would cost you $5,500. While in 2018 with CRISPR, the cost is $30 per base pair.
Thank you for reading about gene editing! I hope you enjoyed! This could very well be the future, and we love reading and researching about what has already been discovered, and what could become! Thanks so much for reading!