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CRISPR isn’t just for editing human embryos. But it also applies to plants and insects: 5 important things to read.

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Editor’s note: As we come to the end of the year, Conversation editors look back at 2018 excerpts for them.

If you’re shocked by the shocking reports of gene-edited babies. You might feel that the only purpose of CRISPR, the genetic technology that allows biologists to edit DNA, is to tamper with the human genome. You may be relieved to learn that engineering human traits isn’t as easy as I know it is. Cecile Janssens of Emory University explains that the most desirable traits are the products of dozens or hundreds of genes that interact with genes. environment Such traits cannot be designed by playing with one or two genes.

During the last year of covering CRISPR applications, I realized that a better reflection of the promise of gene-editing technology can be seen in the laboratories of scientists creating new crops.

1. CRISPR and Crops

Of all the controversies involving genetically modified crops, You might wonder if CRISPR is any different. Yi Li, a plant geneticist at the University of Connecticut, argued that the precision of CRISPR sets it apart from GMOs because no foreign genes from other species are added to the plants Li uses. CRISPR to design green leaf disease-resistant citrus trees Huanglongbing which has destroyed citrus crops in Florida and other parts of the world.

2. CRISPR and organic farming

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Rebecca Mackelprang, a plant pathologist at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that some forms of CRISPR editing mimic naturally occurring gene mutations. This means that this biotechnology can help achieve the goals of organic farming. She also explains how CRISPR is a way for academic researchers to enter a world dominated by Big Ag.

3. CRISPR and Taming Wild Plants

CRISPR could be an important tool as changing climates make it difficult to grow crops. Cornell University’s Nathan Reem and Esperanza Shenstone describe how wild plants with cultivating potential can be quickly reared indoors using gene editing. They worked on cherry soil and showed how plants could grow tighter and produce bigger fruit. Similar adjustments may help crops struggling to adapt to a warmer climate. Doing the same thing using traditional plant breeding techniques could take hundreds of years by comparison.

4. CRISPR and Public Health

when it comes to public health There are many useful applications that do not involve editing the DNA of human embryos. Jay Shendure’s team at the University of Washington used CRISPR as a tool to find out if breast cancer gene 1 and 2–BRCA mutations 1 and BRCA 2 – which are harmless and which genes are most likely to greatly increase the risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

5. CRISPR and Malaria

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One of the more controversial applications of CRISPR is to create a gene drive mechanism. This is a genetic mechanism that allows the trait to spread through a population faster than it would occur naturally. Andrea Crisanti and Kyros Kyrou demonstrate how gene drives can successfully destroy mosquito populations in the lab. Purpose of use: Eliminate mosquitoes that spread malaria. It is a radical approach and cannot be reversed. Which is why it’s still years away from being used in the field. Instead, it offers a genetic approach to controlling this and other mosquito-borne diseases.

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