Scientific Breakthroughs

Age of Biotechnology: Gene Editing to Change Mosquito Species and Prevent Disease Like Malaria, Chikungunya, Zika

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The new age of biotechnology lets us explore the many possibilities of gene editing with the technique called CRISPR. In a TED Talk, the potential of gene modification in disease prevention – like malaria, chikungunya, and Zika – and a cure was tackled.

Changing Entire Species

If only mosquitoes cannot carry the genes responsible for transmitting malaria, humans would be safe from the life-threatening disease caused by the parasite. A biologist, Anthony James, has thought of a way on how to make mosquitoes resistant: genetic modification.

New York Times science journalist Jennifer Kahn talked about the implications of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) – from its discovery to applications. Preventing diseases is one of its most promising uses and in the TED Talks, Khan discussed how James’ research can introduce ten times more engineered mosquitoes than native ones.

James was contacted by another biologist, Ethan Bier, who, with his grad student Valentino Gantz, have discovered a way to pass an engineered trait from one generation to another. Basically, the process makes two red-eyed mosquitoes to be introduced to white-eyed ones. After two generations, all of the 3,800 new mosquitoes have red eyes.

Gene editing like this could prevent various mosquito-causing diseases such as malaria, Zika virus, and chikungunya. At the same time, it could also open channels to the invasive elimination of species.

Editing of Life’s Source Code

The process of gene modification is achieved with a discovery that was unlike any other: we can alter DNA, the source code of life. While the universe in a constant flux of change, knowing that we can dictate change on one of the most fundamental levels is an exceptional breakthrough.

The new genome-editing technique, CRISPR acts as biotechnical scissors that could snip away mistakes in the genome. Despite the popular belief that gene modification will bring life to all new species and “designer” babies, what it actually does is correct the errors in one’s complete DNA set.

For instance, wheat is genetically enhanced to grow and produce more crops in the same piece of land. With today’s problems of land scarcity for crops, this would be a great way to help prevent global famine.

Of course, the CRISPR-Cas9 system also opens channels in introducing genetic changes in the human genome. Diseases could be prevented, from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer, with this novel method.

At the end of the day, even though gene editing is a precise and remarkably cheap technique compared to others, there are still a lot of refinements to be done first. Moreover, there are issues of bioethical questions that need to be seriously conferred.


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