Developments around CRISPR have made it possible to tackle some interesting practical problems such as making NZ pest-free by using gene drive.
What is CRISPR? Watch the TED Talk below.
What is gene drive? An explanation of CRISPR and gene drive have been previously posted. It is a natural system used by bacteria to protect themselves against viruses and is now being used routinely in genetics as a tool in research.
Recently the Department of Conservation has set a target for New Zealand to become pest free by 2050. This includes mice, rats, stoats, rabbits and possums. This is very unlikely to be achieved using the conventional methods of poisons, diseases, traps, shooting or other such methods as pointed out by Professor John Knight in the article in the ODT 10/10/2016.
Gene drive is our best hope or worst fear? Part of the fear comes from the unknown. What is required is a very extensive public education effort to explain to people what gene drive is, how CRISPR works and what are the ethical issues. For pest control the objective would be to produce only male offsprings and thereby control the population.
Being an island nation, we are ideally situated to use this method — we have been bold with innovation before — here is our chance again.
Jennifer Doudna - co-inventor of the CRISPR technology talks about the need for 'ethics of CRISPR'.
Following on the issues raised in a previous post, Jennifer and numerous colleagues have called for an international meeting to discuss the safe use of CRISPR and the ethics of being able to create "engineer humans" as well as other genetically modified organisms (GMO's)
It is important that all stake holders (excuse the jargon), which includes you and me, understand the potential and risks of this technology and to have an informed discussion in accordance with the principles of a pluralist democracy. For more , click here.
For an elegant explanation of the CRISPR-Cas9 system watch the video.
CRISPR is causing a major upheaval in biomedical research. It is cheap, quick and easy to use, and it has swept through labs around the world as a result.
What is CRISPR? - it is an abbreviation for ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’. It was initially found in bacteria as a resistance mechanism to foreign genetic material such as plasmids and phages.
CRISPRs are associated with cas genes that code for proteins related to CRISPRs — Cas9 for instance By delivering the Cas9 protein and appropriate guide RNAs into a cell, the organism's genome can be cut at any desired location. Researchers only need to order the RNA fragment; the other components can be bought off the shelf. Total cost: is as little as $30. This effectively democratises the technology so that anyone can use it.
Last year, bioengineer Daniel Anderson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and his colleagues used CRISPR in mice to correct a mutation associated with a human metabolic disease called tyrosinaemia. It was the first use of CRISPR to fix a disease-causing mutation in an adult animal — and an important step towards using the technology for gene therapy in humans.
What are the risks?
Many researchers are deeply worried that altering an entire population, or eliminating it altogether, could have drastic and unknown consequences for an ecosystem. They are also mindful that a guide RNA could mutate over time such that it targets a different part of the genome. This mutation could then race through the population, with unpredictable effects - the risk of the accidental release of an experimental gene-drive.
What is a gene-drive?
First let us look at how mutations are normally spread within populations.
With gene-drive the genetic change would spread rapidly throughout the population since at each mating the genetic change would occur in both parents.