CRISPR CRACKS AND EPIGENETICSJuly 24, 2018
If you've been following the GMO issue, or for that matter, the whole wider issue of genetic engineering and "editing", then you'll be interested by the latest studies of problems emerging with CRISPR, the revolutionary genetic technology that was touted as being able to edit specific genes with precision, rather than the "shotgun" approach that obtained formerly. In fact, so many people sent me various versions of this story that I began to wonder what they were seeing in it. I've selected two versions of the story (the Science Alert article shared by Mr. Bernard Grover):
There's a statement in the first article that caught my attention, and it is this:
The DNA damage found in the new study included deletions of thousands of DNA bases, including at spots far from the edit. Some of the deletions can silence genes that should be active and activate genes that should be silent, including cancer-causing genes.
The DNA chaos that CRISPR unleashes has been “seriously underestimated,” said geneticist Allan Bradley of England’s Wellcome Sanger Institute, who led the study. “This should be a wake-up call.”
The Sanger scientists didn’t set out to find collateral DNA damage from CRISPR. As they investigated how CRISPR might change gene expression, a “weird thing” showed up, Bradley said: The target DNA was accurately changed, but that set off a chain reaction that engulfed genes far from the target. The scientists therefore changed course. (Emphasis added)
The reason that italicized statement caught my eye was that it suggests the presence of epigenetic factors. Briefly and simplistically put, epigenetics is the idea that genetics - this particular or that particular gene - are not the sole determiners of the development or genetic tendencies of an organism. There's another "wholistic" factor beyond the genes themselves (hence, "epi-genetic" or "beyond genetics") that is somehow also affected. It's a bit like saying that the engine in an automobile works as a whole, and that one cannot tinker with the carburetor without messing up the whole engine; a Ford carburetor probably won't work as well in a Chevy engine, and vice versa. We'll get back to this epigenetic problem in a moment.
Then there was this in the second article from Science Alert:
In the worst-case scenario, if such mangled edits were introduced into humans in a CRISPR/Cas9 treatment, important genes might end up being switched on or off, which could make for potentially serious health consequences.
"In the clinical context of editing many billions of cells, the multitude of different mutations generated makes it likely that one or more edited cells in each protocol would be endowed with an important pathogenic lesion," the authors write.
"Such lesions may constitute a first carcinogenic 'hit' in stem cells and progenitors, which have a long replicative lifespan and may become neoplastic [promoting abnormal growths] with time."
If such unforeseen side effects can indeed be introduced by using CRISPR/Cas9 to snip at the genome, the researchers say it's imperative for future clinical applications to address the risks.
Now, imagine the intergenerational effect of such edits, over not one or two, but three or more generations, and that when the full effect of epigenetic influences is not well understood, and one has a recipe for a potential disaster. What works today may, generations down the line, actually have a reverse effect.
When CRISPR came out, there was a great deal of fanfare, and some of that fanfare was coming from the GMO argibusiness sector, a sector which, as I've pointed out many times, did not do adequate intergenerational testing in my opinion, a fact highlighted by the Russian government in its own banning of GMOs and its call for genuine intergnerational studies. Now imagine all those "unintended edits" as a consequence of CRISPR getting out into the food supply, thanks to the corporate-controlled regulatory agencies that rubber-stamped GMOs in the first place, and you get the idea... Of course, it is equally possible that what scientists have found may eventually lead to a cure for cancer. But that's the point: let's do some genuinely long term studies before releasing too much of this into the public, because once it's out, there's no turning it back. One might even envision a time when "full disclosure" before marriage might include the requirement to state whether or not one partner has ever undergone any genetic therapy.
See you on the flip side..