Gene Editing—God's Scalpel or Pandora's Box?
Recently, a research result of the Institute of Neurosciences at Peking University made gene editing appear in the public's vision once and for all by using CRISPR gene editing technology to accurately "delete" animal’s specific memories.
On March 19, 2020, the team of Wan You and Yi Ming in the Institute of Neurosciences at Peking University published a research in Science Advances titled Development of A CRISPR-SaCas9 System for Projection- and Function-specific Gene Editing in the Rat Brain. The research is based on CRISPR gene editing technology, combined with anterograde/retrograde AAV vectors and activity-dependent cell-labeling techniques, to achieve gene editing of pathway-specific and function-specific neuronal subpopulations, precisely control the storage and regression of specific memory in rats, which provides a powerful strategy for analyzing the advanced cognitive functions of the brain.
In general, CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology is to modify the gene at the wrong site in the genome to restore the normal function of the cell. This technology discovers, excises and replaces specific parts of DNA through a special programming enzyme called Cas9, and is a game changer in the field of biological sciences. In 2013, the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology was born, and the biology world jumped into a new era. In this era, humans can quickly and accurately manipulate genes, change lives, conquer cancer, and get rid of genetic diseases. The dream has become within reach. The CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology is also visually called "gene magic scissors".
In the above research, the team used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to achieve projection and function-specific gene editing in the rat brain. In the experiment, the researchers induced the rat's fear memory in two different experiment boxes (box A and box B). Furthermore, the gene editing technology and activity-dependent cell labeling technology were combined to specifically knock down the cbp (CREB-binding protein) in the trace cells that stored one experimental box (box A) fear memories in the prelimbic cortical (PL). It was found that this operation precisely "deleted" the rat's fear memory of Box A, while the memory of Box B was kept intact. The team said that the success of such research will hopefully provide new treatment ideas for diseases with pathological memory such as chronic pain and addiction.
This really sounds very sci-fi. Movies such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Total Recall have long taught us the idea of modifying memories, but did not expect that one day we can actually move from the film to reality. Since the "Gene Editing Baby" incident in 2018, there has been a lot of discussion about gene editing. The breakthrough of the technology also makes everyone full of expectation and worry. Some people think that this is a boon for people who have suffered great trauma and depression. Some people think that this is Pandora's Magic Box, which cannot be easily closed once opened.
Nevertheless, gene editing is not a scientific taboo. Gene therapy’s safety has been approved in many research, which has been widely used in major experiments all over the world. In the global pandemic of COVID-19, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for the first time the emergency use of CRISPR-based gene editing technology for the detection of novel coronaviruses, allowing it to be provided more quickly to detection in public health emergencies. The rapid detection test strip based on CRISPR technology can greatly improve detection efficiency, reduce operation difficulty and detection cost.
Gene editing technology is like a scalpel, which allows humans to edit the target gene to achieve the knockout and addition of specific gene fragments. If we can fully master the gene editing technology, we will no longer suffer from various killing diseases. At present, we still have limited knowledge about genes, but it’s believed that in the future, we will unveil more secrets of gene and human body.
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