Hollywood films such as The X-Men, Gattaca, and Jurassic World have introduced such an intriguing concept to the public as “Embryo Genome Editing.” It is a biomolecular technique that can alter the DNA structure of sperm, eggs, or embryos. If you remove from the embryo exactly the gene that causes a certain disease, not only the baby will be released from it, but also all its offspring.
Nevertheless, this technology has many skeptics. It is difficult to accurately predict how a child will develop a modified gene. However, the coronavirus pandemic has shown how vulnerable humans are to new diseases. This raises the question, is it time to speed up gene editing?
We have good evidence that the technology works. A similar study has already been conducted around inactive embryos. In parallel, in 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiangui announced that the first genetically modified baby was born. This was followed by a great response in the scientific community, there was criticism, but many liked it even more.
Human genome editing (hGGe) was performed using the Nobel Laureate – CRISPR system. It is a kind of molecular scissors that can cut and correct genes. Researchers agree that we will definitely use similar technologies sometime, the main thing is when this will happen.
In 2016, the UK became the first country to officially allow “three-parent children”. Of course, this was done using genetic technology called mitochondrial replacement therapy. It is a system of substituting unhealthy mitochondria for healthy mitochondria received from a donor.
Protection against coronavirus
This time, scientists are considering genome editing in the context of a pandemic. For example, using CRISPR, we can modify genes so that the coronavirus can no longer enter our bodies. In addition, we can edit human genes to further strengthen our body in the fight against infections.
For example, CRISPR clinical trials are already underway to include genome editing in cancer patients to improve immunity against tumor cells.
The pandemic has shown us another bitter reality – the health systems of most countries in the world are not equipped enough to cope with such a sudden “shock” as the coronavirus pandemic.
The “shock” of the pandemic on health systems was so great that it made it difficult for patients with other diseases to receive timely treatment.
Consequently, scientists have seen the need to use similar technologies even more, and it can be used against other serious diseases as well.
We already have a lot of information pointing to certain gene mutations, for example, the BRCA2 gene in women increases the likelihood of developing cancer. The genetic foci of this disease provide potential goals for hGGe therapy.
Climate change and malaria
The coronavirus pandemic may be the beginning of a crisis that climate change will bring.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Science (IPBES) highlights the clear link between global pandemics and climate change.
The report says that biodiversity variability could give new, even more acute pandemics the green light.
It is not just about new viruses. Our global climate is changing, which may increase the rate of transmission of pre-existing diseases. For example, if malaria starts to activate in areas where health systems are unprepared for it, it can be very dangerous.
However, there is a way to protect people from malaria – this is the anemia gene. One copy of this gene protects us from malaria. However, if such two people have a child, the child may develop cellular anemia. This shows how difficult it can be to edit a gene – you can modify genes to protect a population from one disease, but potentially, they can produce another.
The Royal Society of Great Britain recently stated that hereditary genome editing is not yet at a level to be completely safe for humans. However, studies are still ongoing.
It can be said that the world is currently not ready to make full use of the potential of such technology. There is progress, but it is not so fast that we can expect the daily consumption of this technology in the coming days. However, one thing is for sure, sooner or later, these technologies will finally appear and will definitely help humanity in the prevention of diseases.
It should be noted that the acceleration of such processes can be triggered by a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic.