In the near future, parents will be able to have designer babies by being able to decide a kid’s genetic future. You will be able to decide whether you want a child with blue eyes, a short nose, or a masculine body, courtesy of gene editing.
This may become a reality sooner than we expect because already, scientists have invented a new, special biological tool that could make gene editing super-effective through entire populations.
The switch in question is able to accurately turn protein expression on, but what’s amazing is that the whole process is practically at will, no chances. The new switch enables handling of gene editing tools in a way that might in the near future control cascade of desired genetic alterations in living beings.
According to the findings and available statistics, the new switching technique should work for most proteins across all species. It uses an inexpensive amino acid that is also harmless, as the control switch. However, the on mode only works with the presence of a specific amino acid by the name BOC.
What Puts this Apart from Other Switches
Previous switches have used antibiotics but this does not, which ideally eliminates the risks of bacterial antibiotic resistance after selecting.
The experts also say this method is not “leaky” meaning; those proteins that are supposed to remain in the “off mode” won’t be able to express their characteristics, a problem currently seen in methods that rely on light or temperature.
Existing as an amino acid that’s similar to lysine, the switch is: first, readily available, –so it’s cheap, it’s non-toxic, and as the experts from the University of Bath and Cardiff University report, it should be environmentally-friendly.
The teams in Cardiff and Bath who also invented it have tested the switch in early-stage mouse embryos and in cultured cells without the target protein being expressed in the absence of BOC.
The technique deploys a principle that biologists call, genetic code expansion. Now, to demonstrate this, the team used specific transgenic mice that carry a gene, which makes their skin glow when exposed to UV light. When the genetic code expansion kit adopted for gene editing was present in embryos from the mice, their DNA was edited to eliminate the fluorescence gene, but this was only possible when BOC was present.
When the BOC was not present, no editing took effect. Embryos that were successfully edited this way developed into mice that didn’t fluoresce, but in the absence of BOC, it was confirmed that successful editing could not occur, which means the mice remained green.
How this Could be Applied
With the addition of BOC, the switch gives scientists that ability to control a host of biological processes. Like for instance, practical and research applications in the lab, on whole animals, or both. It might also be used to control how certain protein effect aging cells in animals or culture.
For gene therapy and clinical application to be precise, it may offer a means to switch on proteins with the intent of boosting regenerative processes, thereby redefining genomic therapy.
Another interesting application would be using the biological switch in gene drive tech. This might allow gene drives to use the CRISPR-Cas9 system in a way that confines offspring in sexually reproducing species to inherit specific genetic segment, taking away the 50% chance of passing down the code that sexual reproduction often confers upon it.
The work is exceptional because it seems safe all around. “Our work is environment-friendly and could switch across large distances. For example, you can decide to control gene drive activity in livestock by simply adding or removing BOC from feedstuffs,” said Prof. Tony Perry leader of the Bath team.
The study also appears in the journal Scientific Reports and states that gene editing has vast potential across biological science, that is, from biomedicine, plants, and animal, to food security.