The startling future of DNA genome editing

CRISPR is a technology that allows scientists to change DNA sequences in anything, whether human, animal, or plant.

The startling future of DNA genome editing

TechRepublic's Teena Maddox talked with Rodolphe Barrangou, an associate professor of food science from North Carolina State University, about the developing technology CRISPR during ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference.

Watch the video, or read the transcript below:

Barrangou: So CRISPR is a technology that enables scientists to easily, readily, and affordably change DNA sequences. Essentially it cuts DNA very precisely. Then once you cut DNA at a precise location you behoove or compel DNA repair pathways to alter the genetic sequence precisely at the site of cleavage. This is why it's called genome editing because you can edit the writing, the spelling of DNA sequences. You can change any DNA sequence you want, pretty much any way you want, in any organism you want. That means that you can change either a letter, a word, sentence or even you can change the punctuation. How heavily transcribed or not expressed or not a particular gene is. Is it on, is it off, is it in, is it out, is it changed?

Scientists now with CRISPR technologies are able to alter DNA sequences across the kingdom of life. Whether we're talking about human cells, animals cells, plant cells, or even primitive, simple bacterial cells, even things like algae and yeast and others, scientists, again across the globe, have access to this democratized broadly available genome editing technology that enables them to change the genetic content of those organisms. And either study them to understand how they work or to create applications across biotechnology, food, agriculture, and pharmaceutical sciences.

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We're now in a stage where people can alter bacteria used to ferment foods. Let's say make different more flavorful cheese or yogurt, or kill off specific pathogens, or develop next generation probiotics that make our gut healthier and better, or you can alter things like plants.

Plants, you can increase their yield. You can alter their drought resistance. You can alter their organoleptic properties to make them tastier, sweeter, or not and then change how they are resistant to things like drought or certain environmental conditions.

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You can do the same thing with animals and alter their fat composition, for example. You can go into a pig and alter whether bacon will be more or less fat. You can go into chickens and alter their immune systems to make them maybe more resistant to pests in general and bacterial pathogens in particular.

You can do things, also, like edit the human genome. You can do things called gene therapies whereby you have a faulty gene copy in your DNA. You inherited from one of your parents or maybe both. Then scientists can go into those cells specifically target a faulty gene, cut it, and replace it potentially with the correct copy that is from a healthy patient or a healthy version.

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You can go in and then cure genetic diseases. You can go in and target viruses and cut them out. You can go in and alter any trait you want. Multiplexably, not just one particular sequence but also combinations thereof.

This technology already has a had a very noteworthy, noticeable, traumatic, and disruptive impact on all the industries that it's used in and implemented in. Encompassing things like food science, agriculture, again with plants and livestock, or even medicine. We are anticipating, for instance, the first series of human clinical trials to actually get started this very year. Potentially by Q4 2018. Possibly by Q1 2019 to go into the clinic and literally treat or access the ability of those technologies to treat genetic diseases.

Likewise, those technologies have already been implemented in a number of commercially relevant plants and animals and bacteria that are broadly used across the globe in the food supply chain. We can make a more sustainable, healthier, more durable, more resistant and also more affordable health promoting food supply chain.

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