Updated: Sep 4
"Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set" Proverbs 22:8
"Science is a good servant but a bad master"
"Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and
understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact
or thought of the course of nature; beyond this, he neither knows
anything nor can do anything" Francis Bacon
Have you ever wondered what the longest word humankind has ever known is? I don't mean the spoken or the written word, but the living word that harbors life. Without a doubt, it is the genome. The Australian lungfish has the longest word containing 43 billion base pairs
nucleotides or letters) and is 14 times longer than the human genome. Humans have approximately 3.2 billion base pairs (germ cells are haploid with 3.2 million, and body or somatic cells are diploid with 6.4 billion base pairs). These bases are organized in a linear sequence. Our health and well-being depend on how these letters are positioned and organized. It's not the quality of the bases, but the position is very significant. Any misplacement or alteration in position makes the difference between life and death. A single letter change (mutation) or misspelling causes fatal diseases like hemophilia, ß-thalassemia, neurofibromatosis, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, and other mutations that increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease or cancer or childhood blindness disease called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA). More than 300 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with a genetic disease. While therapy is very limited and recovery is uncertain, scientists have recently developed novel genetic techniques that could identify and potentially eliminate these diseases. With the advent of the new gene editing technology called (CRISPR-Cas), we can instruct the cell to insert or delete the desired base or chop-out random bits of DNA and eliminate the disease. This is the most advanced form of gene therapy, and it has remarkable health potential.
What is CRISPR?
Viruses are the primary infectious agents of bacteria and other unicellular organisms (archaea). They are extremely virulent. When a bacterium is infected by a virus, it uses an adaptive immune defense called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic
Repeats ) or the CRISPR-Cas9 system. (Cas9 is an enzyme that slices a specific DNA sequence,). So, CRISPR-based gene editing comprises 2 independent parts: a Cas enzyme and a guide RNA. Together, the CRISPR/Cas system can find the specific mutated gene and edit them. How does the CRISPR sequence enter the bacterial genomes? When a bacterium survives a viral attack, it integrates certain DNA sequences from the virus into its genetic code, known as the spacer. The bacteria use the spacer as a template and make complementary RNA strands. When infected by viruses with similar sequences, it uses this complementary RNA to bind the virus. Then, it directs the Cas enzyme to attack and cut the viral DNA at the binding site and eliminate the invasion. In human gene editing, scientists apply this technique to edit mutated bases. However, CRISPR comes with its risk. The Cas9 enzyme that cleaves DNA at a specific location could also make cuts in other parts of the
genome. This could result in mutations that may cause deadly diseases like cancer. Though editing directed at somatic cells is beneficial, germline editing (knocking out desirable genes while inserting deleterious genes) with embryos; when ethical boundaries are breached and landed in the wrong hands; possibly 1000 “custom engineered Hitlers” instead of 1000 Mother Teresas emerging from the artificial womb of the Embryo Industry could have devastating consequences. Can we tinker with the code of life? Can we play God?
Nobel laureate Watson says, “If we don’t play, who will?
Shakespeare makes the best of it;
But man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d;
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep.