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Biotech Science

Precision Gene Editing 128

Posted by Zonk
from the i'd-like-some-gills-please dept.
mpthompson writes "NewScientist.com is reporting that scientists at Sangamo Biosciences have developed a method of editing DNA mutations with unprecedented precision without weaving in potentially harmful foreign genetic material. Different combinations of amino acids are designed to latch on and cut the DNA at exactly the place where the mutated gene lies. This triggers the body's natural repair process which corrects the gene where the DNA was cut. The technique will be used to target diseases caused by single-gene mutations such as combined immune deficiency (X-SCID) - or bubble boy disease - and sickle cell anaemia."
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Precision Gene Editing

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  • by thanasakis (225405) on Friday April 08, 2005 @06:43PM (#12182266)
    If sick people can get cured by something like this, we can't afford not to exploit it.

    Let's just not forget that there is not such thing as evil knowledge. The way we use it makes good or evil.
  • by EdwinBoyd (810701) on Friday April 08, 2005 @06:45PM (#12182284)
    While I see where you are coming from, this process is no different than surgery on a fundamental level. Similar to removing a tumour or cist, it is a proceedure that if done properly can vastly improve the quality of life for the patient. According to the article after the 'cut' is made the body repairs the strand itself, so no insertion of new genes are required.
  • by bennomatic (691188) on Friday April 08, 2005 @06:46PM (#12182294) Homepage
    There are indeed dangers, but we've been doing this sort of thing for thousands of years; breeding of animals and plants is an old, old practice.

    I know people who are geneticists, and who work in a lab where they are able to essentially make a mouse to order. You want one that grooms obsessively, here you go! Want one that glows in the dark? You got it. Just because they do it through genetic manipulation rather than breeding doesn't make it any more evil than other means.

    What it does do is accelerate our ability to learn about life. Should we take things in measured steps? Absolutely! We should also have been more careful about asbestos, lead based paint, DDT, agent orange and more. But should we ignore these amazing advances? Absolutely not!

  • by iostream_dot_h (824999) on Friday April 08, 2005 @06:53PM (#12182348)
    "short term good"? This has the potential to eradicate several crippling diseases and increase the quality of life of an innumerable number of people. You're going to have to give a better reason against gene therapy than "you're acting as god." You're personal religious opinions are not welcome in a diverse global arena, which is (or ought to be) tailored toward the pursuit of the greater good. You only serve to alienate those of us who may not subscribe to the notion that scientific progress runs counter to moral norms (a concept whose ontological coherence is debatable).

    On a related note, this kind of attitude is precisely why scientific progress often stagnates. Irrational fear hinders societal good. Messing up a few times, as cold and calculating as this might sound, may be necessary in order to develop effective medicines and therapies and pinpoint options that do not work. The individuals who sign up for clinical trials are aware of the risks, and those who do should be applauded for their selfless contribution to the good of humanity.

    Regardless of your personal beliefs, gene therapy is one of the most promising developments in medicine. It has the potential to revolutionize our perceptions of the human body.
  • by ciroknight (601098) on Friday April 08, 2005 @06:56PM (#12182378)
    Forgive me for not believing in your esoteric views of this "God" character nobody has any proof of, but I feel genetic manipulation is going to be one of the few things that allow us (the human race) to continue existing.

    As time goes on, we defeat simple diseases such as the bubonic plague, then upgrade to tougher ones like smallpox. We're now at the point where the only communicable diseases that are seriously fatal are biologically engineered bacteria, and viruses. On top of that, we've still got Cancer to worry about, which is kicking our asses.

    While it may be cheaper to produce drugs for everyone alive and distribute them to everyone, no company in their right minds would do this. But if we could figure out genetically how to teach our immune systems to deal with cancer, and certain foreign invaders, we could save millions simply by changing our children's genes.

    I think the biggest paranoia attributed to genetic engineering is the fear of change; just because we know how something works now, and we assume that it'll continue working the same way into the future, we give up the notion that we can change things for the better or for the worse. Yes, we are foulable creatures, but at the same time, we now know how to clean up our mistakes. It's far past time we take our fates into our own hands. Why use medicines that can screw up other things in our bodies when we can simply prevent the problem from occuring naturally?
  • Mutations... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by John Seminal (698722) on Friday April 08, 2005 @06:57PM (#12182385) Journal
    That is how nature changes people, that is how humans evolved to what we are today. I dunno how smart it is messing with mother nature. So far, mother nature has been able to keep things going well for thousands and thousands of years. But for some human to say, I am not happy living to 80 years old, I want to live to 90 years old, that is a risky proposition considering they are not using standard medicine, but messing with DNA. Maybe what would have happened naturally now won't.

    I think there is a natural equilibrium between nature and gene mutations. When the hand of man starts changing one side of the equation, can the consequences on the otherside be foreseen? For example, who is to say that some form of cancer today won't mutate to something 1,000 years from now that will save humanity from some enviormental change?

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday April 08, 2005 @07:18PM (#12182550)
    Pharmacorp executive: "Let's see now, we can sell them a one-time treatment that cures them for the rest of their lives, OR we can charge them $1000/month for drugs to maintain their current status for the rest of their lives... well, obviously we'll choose the method that is best for the patient's well being, our profits be damned! I mean, it's not like we have a board of directors that will sack us if our revenues don't increase every quarter!"
  • Re:Mutations... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Frumious Wombat (845680) on Friday April 08, 2005 @09:19PM (#12183576)
    If you read Barbara McClintock's work and modern genetics, you'll see there are three events to worry about; mutations, exchanges with external organisms (virus, etc) and cross-overs. (genes exchanged during replication). Some people working with GA's have found that you don't need mutations at all, as cross-over events will give you all the variability you could want.

    To answer your question, think of sickle-cell anemia. One copy of the gene, and you're resistant to malaria (but not immune, i.e. it simply kills you more slowly). Two copies, and you have sickle-cell anemia, and die early. The benefit of the gene outweighs the risk only as long as you don't have effective treatments for malaria. If you have good control of malaria, then it's better that you don't have that gene at all, as the net effect is deleterious.

    We can't be sure of all of the ramifications, so we should make backups of anything we delete (CVS for your genes, so to speak), but in the end if we can short-circuit the process of better adapting ourselves to our environment, then we should do it.

    A thousand years ago, genes that helped you resist smallpox and survive poorly fed winters were essential. Now, genes that coded for better DNA repair and reduced fat synthesis/uptake would be a better adaptation. We can wait for them to arise naturally (teenagers start keeling over from hardening of the arteries due to our first-world diet before they can reproduce), or we can engineer them, and introduce them into volunteers.

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