Good morning all,
We've talked about genes, and modifications of gene structure (gene editing) or use (gene expression) a number of times this term, and I am sure that you understand both the power and peril that these methods embody. Editing DNA is, at its most basic level, very profound: it really is the 'stuff' that defines us.
In the science news this week comes a recent report, that at first glance, seems unimportant: scientists have performed gene editing, and made an albino lizard. But, this simple summary doesn't quite capture the importance of this work.
For most of its history, molecular biology (and its recent growth into genomics) have focused upon a few model organisms, chosen for their practicality of study. These have included bacteria, yeast, roundworms, fruit flies, zebrafish, and mice, to name a few. Much has been learned from these models, and most of what we know about molecular biology and genetics comes from work on them. But, their use excludes several prominent groups of organisms, including birds and reptiles. That may be coming to an end.
One research group recently employed a modern gene-editing technique (CRISPR) to modify gene expression in Anolis lizard eggs to produce albino offspring. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily an earth-shattering result. What is new is the fact these researchers were able to use CRISPR on a new family of vertebrates, suggesting that it really is going to be a general and powerful technique. Even more importantly, however, these researchers were able to edit the genome of immature eggs, which means that the effects they caused were then propagated throughout the entire organism that resulted from those eggs.
Remember when we talked about gene therapy, and introducing new genes into specific tissues (only)? Here now is a more powerful technique: performing targeted gene editing on the whole-organism genome.
Stay tuned: this gene (and now genome) editing ride is going to be a wild one for a few years, until our understanding of it, our ethical evaluations, and our regulations mature.
Have a great weekend -