Imagine a Future In Which Genes Will Be Programmable!

by Justina Chu on September 19, 2017 - 12:22am

The study of the function of each gene has been the spotlight of biology. Some scientists have been running experiments for years to push their boundaries. With new biology knowledge, new ideas can be executed.

 

Two groups of biologists have been performing experiments on butterflies. They are looking at two different genes and examination of their functions. The two genes that are being looked at are both responsible for the color and patterns of the butterflies’ wings. These two genes are the Optix and WntA. Surprisingly, the color of the wings changes not only when Optix was erased or switched off but also when the same manipulations are done on different species. The same happened with WntA and its role on the patterns.

 

Many other genes are actually depending on these two master genes and their role depends on the species in which they are found. Is this the work of evolution? If so, what is the network of these genes?

 

All these new knowledge was found with the invention of “Crispr gene-editing tool”. It allowed biologist to control genes and examine their functions. Will these new inventions and knowledge help us find a way to control human genes? If it does, where will it bring us?

 

This was a summary of the following article, please consult it for more details: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/18/science/butterfly-wing-color-patterns-gene-editing.html

Comments

Hello Justina, I found your post very knowledgeable.
Genetic coding is clearly the future for curing diseases and is an interesting way that would help to bring our specie to a superior level. However, in my opinion, it also raises many problematics. Genetic engineering clearly presents some risks on the environment and the health level. I personally don’t think that your post emphasized enough these potential harmful side effects. If you are interested of enhancing your knowledge on this topic, I think it would be pertinent to read on the risk of genetic programming.
You will find a link below which I have found fascinating.
http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genet...

Hello Justina!

I was very interested by your article. The discoveries the scientific community can make by observing other organisms, such as butterflies, could revolutionize science and the medical world.

Your commentary was useful and gave me the desire to read not only the article mentioned in your post, but also more about the subject. Reading about gene programmation in butterflies that influence the colour of their wings instantly made me wonder of a world where parents “program” their babies in order to reduce their risks of disease and even, perhaps, their physical appearance.

However, this thought process unconditionally raises a big ethical question. Would it be ethical to modify human genes, as we do with much of the food we consume? I did some research in order to learn more about the risks of genetical editing.

First, I got informed about the technique mentioned in your article, called CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic repeats. This technique uses the process of DNA reparation in cells to add-in or remove specific genes. Using CRISPR is not only simple and efficient, but also inexpensive. It is accessible to practically any laboratory in the scientific world. Researchers have the goal to use this relatively new technology to modify genes in embryos in order to cure diseases and modify mutations. To read more about the subject, I recommend this article, from SAGE:
http://sage.buckinstitute.org/ethical-implications-of-human-genetic-engi...

As one may presume, genome editing in embryos causes a lot of ethical debate. Until recently, only unviable embryos could be “genetically edited” for scientific research. However, in July 2017, the first viable embryos’ genome was edited, in Oregon, using CRISPR. This was done effectively, and few mistakes were made. However, once again, this created big ethical discussions worldwide. Many people are scared of what are called “designer babies,” referring to a world where parents would “design” their babies by modifying their genes until they become “perfect” to their eye. However, genetically edited embryos are not yet transplanted in placenta, and do not develop into grown humans. Many changes in regulations and laws must be done before this can happen. To read more about the subject, you could read this article from Business Insider, which describes the first genetically modified embryos and the risks behind genome editing: http://www.businessinsider.com/scientists-edit-dna-human-embryos-crispr-...

All in all, I really enjoyed reading your article. Although it only discusses the colour of butterflies’ wings, it links to a much bigger issue. The small discovery of a gene that dictates the colour and design of butterfly wings could have big impacts on the research on gene editing. Thank you for your article!
Simon Saad

Hello Justina, research on genes is very important. The invention of “Crispr gene-editing tool” may be useful in controlling human genes in order to prevent some diseases. Furthermore, I think that genetic engineering should only be used for medical reasons, not for personal preference such as selecting the child’s sex, eye colour, etc. Selecting physical traits for our children may cause some potential problems such as a disproportional ratio of males and females on earth. To conclude, I think that research on gene modification must be looked into more in depth in order to raise the quality of our current health system.

There is also another article that may interest you about how genetic modification on human embryos can interrupt genetic diseases by editing the concerned gene into a healthy one. Due to the Crispr-cas9 editing tool, scientists were able to alter single letters of the DNA code, or even rewrite the whole gene.

Consult the full article for more informations:
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/14/major-report-prepares-gr...

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