An international team of CRISPR–Cas scientists has found three new naturally occurring systems that show possibilities for genome editing. The finding and depiction of these systems are expected to further expand the genome editing toolbox, opening new pathways for biomedical investigation. The research, published in the journal Molecular Cell, was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health.
“This work shows a path to discovery of novel CRISPR-Cas systems with diverse properties, which are demonstrated here in direct experiments,” said
Eugene Koonin, PhD., the senior investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), National Library of Medicine (NLM), part of the NIH. “The most remarkable aspect of the story is how evolution has achieved a broad repertoire of biological activities, a feat we can take advantage of for new genome manipulation tools.” (Cravedi, 2015)
As an aside, Dr. Koonin went on to remark,
“CRISPR is an impressive adaptive immune system for another reason: Its lessons can be inherited. People can’t pass down genes for antibodies to their children because only immune cells develop them. There’s no way for that information to get into eggs or sperm. As a result, children have to start learning about their invisible enemies pretty much from scratch.
CRISPR is different. Since microbes are single-celled organisms, the DNA they alter to fight viruses is the same DNA they pass down to their descendants. In other words, the experiences that these organisms have alter their genes, and that change is inherited by future generations.
For students of the history of biology, this kind of heredity echoes a largely discredited theory promoted by the naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in the early 19th century. Lamarck argued for the inheritance of acquired traits. To illustrate his theory, he had readers imagine a giraffe gaining a long neck by striving to reach high branches to feed on. A nervous fluid, he believed, stretched out its neck, making it easier for the giraffe to reach the branches. It then passed down its lengthened neck to its descendants.
The advent of genetics seemed to crush this idea. There didn’t appear to be any way for experiences to alter the genes that organisms passed down to their offspring. But CRISPR revealed that microbes rewrite their DNA with information about their enemies — information that Barrangou showed could make the difference between life and death for their descendants.
Did this mean that CRISPR meets the requirements for Lamarckian inheritance? “In my humble opinion, it does,” said Koonin.” (Zimmer, 2015)
Enzymes from the crisper system are transforming the field of genomics, enabling researchers to target specific regions of the genome and edit DNA at precise locations. “CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which are key components of a system used by bacteria to defend against invading viruses. Cas9 — one of the enzymes produced by the CRISPR system — binds to the DNA in a highly sequence-specific manner and cuts it, allowing precise manipulation of a region of DNA. Enzymes such as Cas9 provide researchers with a gene editing tool that is faster, less expensive and more precise than previously developed methods.” (Cravedi, 2015)
The three newly depicted systems share some aspects with Cas9 and Cpf1, a recently depicted CRISPER enzyme, but having unique attributes that could potentially be exploited for novel genome editing applications. This study underscores the variety of CRISPR systems, which can be taken advantage of to develop more efficient, effective, and precise ways to edit DNA.
Koonin et al. “took a novel bioinformatics (the use of computers to extract and analyze biological data, especially in studying the nucleotide sequences of DNA and other nucleic acids) approach to discover the new proteins, provisionally termed C2c1, C2c2, and C2c3, developing a series of computational approaches to search NIH genomic databases and identify new CRISPR-Cas systems
CRISPR technology has far-reaching implications for modifying and improving agriculture, pharmaceuticals, BioMed, and human genetics. We are rapidly approaching a brave new world with all that it implies as scientists’ knowledge of CRISPR technology geometrically grows.
However, let us pause for the moment; just how close are we to manipulating the genome sequence for personality traits of a human being? According to a
biochemist Dr. Brian Farley Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley post-doctoral fellow, we are not close to performing precise personality modifications.
“Aside from a very blunt and sledgehammer approach (think: lobotomy), I really don’t think so — and not just because of the huge technical hurdles that need to be overcome before precise genome editing in humans is feasible.
Assuming that (and this is a simplifying, mostly untrue assumption!) personality is both entirely genetically specified (i.e., genomic sequence alone is enough to determine personality) and that we can understand the basis of that personality thoroughly enough to manipulate it, there’s still one big problem: many human genes are only actively expressed during early development. These are the genes that contribute to specifying a body plan, rather than keeping the body running. A lot of very important molecular decisions in the history of an individual are being made in the womb, and the genes that contribute are only being expressed then.
Personality (as a subset of all of the functions of the brain) is also in part being influenced by the events of fetal development. This is, again, likely over-simplified, but a lot of learning isn’t the formation of new neural connections in the brain, but instead, the paring back of old, lesser used connections. The vast majority of new connections are formed during fetal and early development, influenced (again) by genes that are only on then.
Silencing already silenced genes obviously won’t do much, and many developmentally-regulated genes have disastrous effects if they’re turned on when they shouldn’t be. Unless we get enough information about the brains of individuals to understand what every connection of every one of the hundreds of billions of cells in the brain is doing, and then have a method to specifically target gene-editing technology to individual cells, gene editing won’t be able to precisely influence personality.” (Farley, 2014)
The key phrases here are Personality (as a subset of all of the functions of the brain) is also in part being influenced by the events of fetal development and precisely influence personality. Does one think with advancements happening geometrically aided by biometrics that we are all that far behind in being able to precisely target personality traits during fetal development? I cite the Communist Chinese government and their clumsy first attempt at manipulating fetal cells. Although they developed harmful mutations within the cell related to the CRISPER Cas9 system, editing the wrong genomic sequence or doing nothing at all, it was still attempted. They obviously have no regrets or scruples in using human embryos. To them, it is so much human tissue to be manipulated as desired. This is truly a case of great intellectual power falling into the wrong hands. Automatons who will stop at nothing to become rulers of the realm and masters of all they survey. The race of man as we know it is in dire peril if the Communist Chinese government is successful in its attempts at manipulating the human genome for their selfish gains.
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Cravedi, K. (2015, October 22). Researchers identify potential alternative to CRISPER-Cas genome editing tools. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from NIH National Institutes of Health: http://www.nih.gov/news/health/oct2015/nlm-22.htm#top
Farley, B. (2014, September Three). Will it be possible to alter a person’s personality in vivo using CRISPR-cas9 or similar technologies? Retrieved October 23, 2015, from Quora: https://www.quora.com/Will-it-be-possible-to-alter-a-persons-personality-in-vivo-using-CRISPR-cas9-or-similar-technologies
Matheson, M. (2015, May 21). CRISPR TECHNOLOGY TO TREAT HUMAN GENETIC DISEASE, A BRAVE NEW WORLD? VOL.1 NO.28. Retrieved October 23, 2015, from The Fat Bastard Gazette: https://thefatbastardgazette.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/crispr-technology-to-treat-human-genetic-disease-a-brave-new-world/
Zimmer, C. (2015, February 6). Breakthrough DNA Editor Borne of Bacteria. Retrieved October 23, 2015, from Quanta: Breakthrough DNA Editor Borne of Bacteria