Yesterday it became known that several famous people in the field of gene editing want to introduce a global moratorium on editing genes in cells that transmit changes to the next generation. Back in 2015, after the first International summit on the editing of human genes, the organizers unanimously agreed that the creation of genetically modified children would be “irresponsible” if we did not know for sure that it is safe.
CRISPR: deny should not be allowed
Last year, Chinese scientist He Jiankui edited the embryos to create two genetically modified babies. Other groups are also actively looking for opportunities to use this technology to improve people’s lives.
This prompted the people with names in the edit area of genes (some of which signed the statement-2015) call for global moratorium on editing of all germ lines man — editing of sperm or egg cells with genetic changes.
In an open letter, published in Nature this week, major players in the development of CRISPR, including Emmanuela Charpentier, Eric lander, and Feng Zhang, have joined colleagues from seven different countries, calling for a complete ban on the editing of germ lines of a person, while the international body will not agree on how to monitor this. They proposed five years for consideration of this issue. The us national Institute of health also supported this call.
The signatories hope that a voluntary global moratorium will prevent the appearance of another Jiangkui with an undesirable surprise.
Scientists believe that a moratorium of five years will give time to discuss “technical, scientific, medical, social, ethical and moral issues that need to be considered” before taking the CRISPR method into use. Countries that decide to go further and allow the editing of the germ line should not only announce it publicly, but also participate in international consultations on the feasibility of such a movement, as well as to ensure a “broad public consensus” in the country.
Also, the signatories of the letter suggest that the study of the germ line should be allowed, if there is no intention to implant embryos and produce children. The use of CRISPR to treat diseases in non-productive somatic cells (when changes will not be inherited) should also be acceptable if any participating adults give their consent. Genetic improvement should be banned and no clinical applications should be made unless its “long-term biological effects are sufficiently understood — both for humans and humans”.
We still don’t know what most of our genes do, so the risk of unintended consequences — good or bad — is huge. For example, the loss of the CCR5 gene, which Xe arranged to protect children from HIV, was associated with an increase in the number of complications and death of oot of some viral infections.
Changes in the genome can have unintended consequences for future generations. “Trying to change the species based on our current level of knowledge would be a display of pride,” says scientists.
The proposed moratorium is designed for good people and is unlikely to stop scammers. But a direct ban would be too “hard”. Well, let’s hope that we find a middle ground in this matter.
But what does the General public think, including you and me?
The benefits of CRISPR
Just this year, CRISPR has shown three powerful advantages of gene modification — and the study of the tool is just beginning.
First, all the same genetically modified twins from China may have inadvertently improved intelligence. The study found that the same change — the removal of the CCR5 gene — not only makes mice smarter, but also improves the ability of the human brain to recover from stroke, and may also be associated with higher school performance. The study was published in the journal Cell. Already initiated further research aimed at studying the Association of the CCR5 deletion with recovery after a stroke.
Secondly, CRISPR is able to weaken the immune system response to stem cells, making the latter, in fact, “invisible” for defensive reactions. It is possible to prevent the rejection of transplants of stem cells. Scientists first used CRISPR to remove two genes that are necessary for the proper functioning of a family of proteins known as the major histocompatibility complex (GKGS) class I and II.
When the researchers transplanted the altered three-component mouse stem cells to incompatible mice with the normal immune system, they saw no rejection. Then they transplanted similarly constructed human stem cells into so-called humanized mice — whose immune systems are replaced by components of the human immune system — and again saw nothing.
This suggests that CRISPR can make transplantation of at least pluripotent stem cells much more convenient, reduce the percentage of rejection and facilitate the process of getting used to new tissues.
And even if we talk about the fact that CRISPR can be dangerous because it can accidentally cut off non-target genes, scientists have already taken care of creating a “switch” for the editing tool.
Earlier this month, a team from the University of California at Berkeley reorganized CRISPR into a programmable procas9 tool that quietly hides in cells until it is awakened by external factors — for example, a viral infection.
This “extra layer of security” limits CRISPR’s editing skills to a subset of cells “for precise cutting,” says study author Dr. David savage.
Moreover, ProCas9 can potentially respond to logical inputs such as “and” or “no”, meaning that it will only be activated if a certain set of instructions are followed — for example, “this cell is cancerous” or “this cell is infected” will result in a “sacrifice cell” response that activates CRISPR and instructs it to cut the genes necessary for survival. The study was published in the prestigious journal Cell.
Obviously, a direct ban on editing CRISPR can be extremely dangerous and throw science back — just imagine a direct ban on chemotherapy, vaccination, or antibiotics. The potential of CRISPR has not even been revealed for a few percent yet, but it is already clear how powerful this tool can be.