GENE EDITING IS HERE

Chinese researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University have performed a breakthrough procedure that has resulted in the removal of the inherited blood disorder Beta-Thalassemia.

The genetic scientists utilised artificial lab generated embryos with the blood defect, with the intention of removing the disorder completely from its genetic code.

Human DNA consists of three major components; a phosphate group, a sugar group and four nitrogen bases; Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Guanine (G) and Thymine (T). It is the order of these four bases that determines the genetic code of a human- in essence, your particular and unique self. The four bases are found together in pairs in the double helix of DNA, with weak hydrogen bonds acting as the adhesive intermediary.

As you can imagine, there are many trillions of possible permutations regarding the composition of the human genome; with an approximation of 3,000,000,000,000 (three trillion) bases; all within 20,000 genes; which are spread across 23 unique chromosomes. Consequently, (and unfortunately) there is a very inflated degree of error during mitosis of early and developing cells after fertilisation. This leads onto the risk of having an abnormal number of chromosomes per pairing, or an error in the selection of a particular base over another, meaning that there is an anomaly in the gene, resulting in some form of deformity. These deformities are called inherited conditions, as the likelihood of them occurring are far higher if one or more of the parents themselves has it.

A prime example of an inherited condition is Beta-Thalassemia, where there is reduced or absence of haemoglobin beta chain synthesis (red blood cell construction), resulting in severe anaemia (lack of red blood cells and or haemoglobin). Thus, anyone with this condition would not be able to partake in physical exercise due to the reduced rate of respiration that can occur. The disease stems from a G base being present instead of the correct A one- the Chinese researchers at Sun Yat-Sen removed the G base, and replaced it with an A, correcting the syndrome.

This pioneering treatment supersedes previously profound gene editor, Crispr, which, in essence, cuts a gene in half, stimulating the body to recondition the rupture, and deactivate a null base pairing. This new treatment is far surpassing of the calibre of the precursory means, as it is a more precise process, allowing for a lesser degree of failure.

Some herald this research as revolutionary; propelling biological study into the future. Yet some disregard it as the initiation of the culmination of human uniqueness, as consumers will soon decide to have their own choice of blueprinted offspring. Only time will tell who is right.

Hamzah Rahman

Photo Credits due to US Dept of Health