Series: Recent Genetic Advancements Hold Promise for Progress

By: Morgan Sharbaugh

Genes are the recipe of life on Earth. From the smallest single-celled prokaryote to the largest mammal, genes and genetics rule all life. Genetics proposes a wide range of studies and theories. Scientists use the genome to study diseases or ways to improve human life. For example, crops are modified to produce more fruits and withstand pests. Recent studies have shown that the human genome can be edited to reduce the effect of genetic diseases and disorders.

With the recent genetic advancements, the world is changing. Our DNA can be decoded and changed which has benefits and repercussions.

Immune System

LiveScience journalist Yasemin Saplakoglu on November 30, 2018, writes about how there is a certain gene in the human genome that alerts the immune system to viruses and prevents the body from attacking itself. When this gene, ADAR1, is found to be defective, an autoimmune disorder develops in infants, resulting in issues with the brain, immune system, and skin, although the disorder does allow for the affected to fight off viruses better than the average person.

A team of scientists deleted the ADAR1 gene in human cells and then infected the cells with different amounts of the measles virus and a mutated measles virus. The same was done with cells that possessed the ADAR1 gene. Most viruses use double-stranded ribonucleic acid, RNA, as their genetic material, but some do use deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA. Humans use DNA, but for the production of proteins, single-stranded RNA is used. Since virus double-stranded RNA, human cells see them as a threat. The cells with the ADAR1 gene noticed the fringe double-stranded RNA after there were 1,000 units of the double-stranded RNA and alerted the immune system, which then attacked the virus. The cells without the ADAR1 gene alerted the immune system immediately, regardless of the amount of foreign RNA there was. This study allows us to inspect how the human genome codes for viruses, and then work on developing a cure for viruses.

Mosquitos

BBC News reports that scientists have discovered a gene that could wipe out mosquitoes worldwide. Researchers tested the mosquito responsible for spreading malaria, Anopheles gambiae. The researchers altered the doublesex gene which codes for the gender of the mosquito using the gene editing tool CRISPR. After altering the gene, males showed no change, but females with two copies of the altered gene did not bite or lay eggs. Theoretically, the mosquitos should not show any resistance to the gene change, but the scientists are still 5-10 years from testing this in the wild. This provides hope to many scientists, and people alike, that the malaria virus may eventually be eradicated, saving many lives.

RedHead Mystery

BBC News reports that 8 genes have been found to cause red hair. It was originally believed that it was one gene that caused red hair, but after looking at the genome of people with red hair, scientists found it was multiple genes. The MC1R gene was said to cause red hair but after looking at someone who inherited that gene from both their father and their mother, but did not have red hair, multiple genes were discovered. The experiment had 350,000 participants and after comparing those with red hair to those with brown, black, or blond, scientists discovered that 8 genes play a role in the phenotype of red hair.

He Jankui uses gene editing on twins

Science Magazine’s Dennis Normile reports He Jiankui claims to have gene edited twins to protect them from the HIV virus. Jiankui used the powerful gene editing tool CRISPR to edit two female twins while in embryo.

HIV possesses many risks to those who contract it, but there are other ways to protect yourself from it other than gene editing. This has posed many questions on ethics for He, since gene editing is still experimental, and there is no way of predicting the outcome for the twins, and whether or not they’ll have health issues later on. He is facing the backlash from the scientific community, several scientists are calling his work, unnecessary, and ethically problematic. He was expecting this and has created YouTube videos explaining his work, even going as far as calling the term “designer babies” an epithet. When in reality, he prematurely created designer babies of his own.

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