A number of science fiction movies show us what all can go wrong because of genetic engineering. In Splice (2009), a geneticist couple spliced human DNA with animal DNA to create a creature which begins developing at an alarming rate and wreaked havoc in their lives and careers. Aware of the dangers of genetic modification, scientists are now trying to come up with an ‘undo’ mechanism for any changes made with the help of the gene-editing technique called CRISPR.
According to Gizmodo, researchers at UCSF have finally discovered a key which might work for a kill-switch for any modifications made with the help of CRISPR.
Using the CRISPR technique, scientists make the immune system of bacteria to copy bits of the DNA code of the virus infecting it, and then attack it more affectively. However, sometimes, scientists miss the target, which means that they end up modifying genes they didn’t want to change.
CRISPR is a great hope for scientists working on cancer treatments, treating fatal genetic disorders, and coming up with better crops. Still, bioethicists worry that it is just a matter of time that genetic modification or genetic engineering intentionally or accidentally is going to cause irreparable damage to the world as we know it.
In September 2016, Defense Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA) introduced a new Safe Genes program which aims to build bio-safety and bio-security tools to counter any glitches in the field of genome editing.
The UCSF researchers have found four ‘anti-CRISPR’ proteins, which can force bacteria to attack itself in case a virus is able to incorporate itself into bacterial DNA. Two of these proteins seem to be able to stop the CRISPR system from doing its work in human cells, at least in laboratory conditions. Scientists have still not been able to ‘undo’ a genetic modification that is complete but they can stop genetic editing in progress, or just kill the process altogether.
Scientists are now trying to find ways to undo or reverse genetic engineering, which can be used in an emergency situation.