- Andersonn Prestes
The gene editing, genome and chance
I have been following the news. I have some of these great science journals and magazines in my feed - I may say interesting things are happening. A powerful technique to manipulate DNA has become mainstream. It has been said that enzymes may edit, replace and modify specific target locations in the DNA. It is called CRISPR technique. Some say it may unfold a big revolution, like the one with PCR in the 80s.
PCR is a widely used technique by geneticists. I used in my project when I was still active. Using an enzyme from a bacterium that replicates DNA at high temperatures, through cycles of heat, it is possible to amplify huge amounts of a gene sequence of interest. The process is very interesting - and mysterious sometimes, personally speaking (I think everyone who worked with PCR had, at least one time, that sample not amplified because of some dark force [everything was right!]). I did not really read how CRISPR actually works, I think it is something to do with the RNA, like an inverse pathway, that leads to very specific regions where there is the possibility of gene editing. It seems to be as interesting as the bacterium, but it is a bit shocking as well. I wrote about eugenics a few years ago (it is a free passionate text, if you are curious but do not want to read all the ramblings, there is a succinct postscript in the post). I said that there would be the possibility to have an editing technique soon, but I did not imagine that such a cheap and apparently successful one would appear in the following year. But I do not want to make a case here. I think researchers may work on target diseases and other biomedical implications to use the technique as wisely as possible. I will speak about another aspect of the discussion: in how well we must know the genome and all its mechanisms in order to make things work accordingly. There is still a strong wave of genetic determinism; some say the “gene for” talk. I haven’t work with molecular biology at that level. I worked with organisms’ relationships, ecology, and evolution. But I think, as I read, that the genome is very dynamic and modular. There are regulatory regions, gene families, introns (non-coding area of a gene), exons (coding area of a gene), transposons (regions that “jump” to another area of the genome), splicing (alternatives to editing coding regions of a gene), epigenetics (external alteration to expression of genes), and so on. There is a fruitful and complex molecular world. Its machinery working to produce a final outcome, at different stages of life, expressing the phenotype, or ultimately, us. It is not a simple and straightforward one-way route. I think it might be possible to reduce and understand target pathways to a desirable trait. To dissect all the mechanisms. But it is really challenging. And, of course, if we are using in ourselves, we have to investigate them profoundly. Theoretically thinking, I guess modularity might be widespread in the genome. Evolution works with what it gets. There are history and ancestrally. Not an uniform mass ready to be shaped. The genome is being expressed, it had a mutation, a recombination, something new – but if everything is intrinsically linked, something might happen somewhere else, maybe. England approved the use of human embryos for research. I think everything is still new. Maybe, there is a new era arriving. I do not know. Philosophically speaking, what I do not really like in the editing program is the super power of prediction, or the underestimation of chance. To becoming the person that you are. I think it is scary to edit a baby and give her/him “desirable” traits. Life is so full to become something edited. Anyway, if we are trying to treat diseases and diminish suffering, it may be something very valuable. I think there are many years ahead. And there will be an exciting journey on understanding the genome, at least theoretically.