Business Unusual

What should happen when we can edit our DNA?

The CRISPR/Cas9 system is a story of highly specialised chemistry and biology that after the latest breakthroughs promise to include a high stakes court drama over contested patents potentially worth billions and a future that could be straight out of a Hollywood Sci-fi blockbuster.

The story begins with with our discovery and understanding of DNA and genes, the stuff of life that regulates how all living cells operate and reproduce. That was in the 50s.

Fast forward to the late 80s and 90s and scientists begin noting some regularly repeating sequences in the DNA of bacteria.

Then, in the last 16 years, that understanding moves to note that the reason is to protect the bacteria from viral infection and that the repeating sequences separate the identifying genetic code of the virus improving its immune system.

The specific description of this ancient flu protection method is called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats or CRISPR. It was also found that an enzyme called Cas9 played a critical role in the process.

Then things get tricky.

Scientific study is typically based on the previous findings of others and the testing of peers to confirm the discovery or invention. Two sets of researchers were working on the CRISPR/Cas9 system and published the discovery that along with a form of RNA can target and cut a specific genetic sequence from a DNA strand and combine it again with another piece.

The question about who first discovered this is the subject of a patent court case.

The case is so important because it appears the relatively simple and effective means for editing DNA could have a wide ranging impact on crops and livestock improvements. It could help avoid hereditary diseases from being passed on to offspring and even treat diseases in living cells like cancer or HIV.

Once we can control for things that go wrong we can begin to consider what things may make humans more efficient.

This process is one of those highlighted as part of the 4th Industrial revolution, the cyber physical revolution.

Consider the implications for longevity or for introducing rare but highly efficient processes in some humans. Dean Karnazes is one such individual. He ran 560 kilometres non-stop in 2005 which some believe is only possible because his body can manage the lactic acid build up in his body. Introducing the same opportunity into an athlete than can also run very fast and you have a far more difficult process to manage than the already vexing issue of doping.

It is still early days and lots more research would be needed to confirm the initial findings, but that is likely to be a question of "when" not "if". The bigger question will be who gets to do it and what you may charge to do so.

Read More
How long before we have a Universal Income Grant?

How long before we have a Universal Income Grant?

The latest test of a 200 years old idea is underway. Should governments give all citizens a basic income?

3 Business Unusual predictions for 2017

3 Business Unusual predictions for 2017

How speech, hacking and blockchain will generate lots of news this year.

The world in 10 years time

The world in 10 years time

The six megatrends the World Economic Forum believes will happen in the next decade.

A code of ethics for code

A code of ethics for code

Almost everything runs code now, we assume it is good code, but how would you know?

MailChimp - odds are you received an email from them in the last 7 days

MailChimp - odds are you received an email from them in the last 7 days

Email is 45 years old. MailChimp is 15 and has made this "old" tech big business.

What a three-way Olympic swimming tie says about our strange measuring system

What a three-way Olympic swimming tie says about our strange measuring system

The metric system defines the world around us, but those definitions are not what you think they are.

Popular articles
Home Affairs takes on Oppenheimer family over VIP airport terminal

Home Affairs takes on Oppenheimer family over VIP airport terminal

The department's DG Mkuseli Apleni says Home Affairs cannot simply grant special immigration services to this wealthy family.

Photographer captures Cape's dwindling dam levels with a drone

Photographer captures Cape's dwindling dam levels with a drone

The latest figures show dam levels at 36.8%, which means they could run almost empty by the time 2017 the winter rains come.

Driving lessons to be incorporated into SA school's curriculum

Driving lessons to be incorporated into SA school's curriculum

Spokesperson for Transport Minister, Dipou Peters, says learners will be given an opportunity to become good and safe drivers.

LISTEN: I paid for sound system from my own personal account - Phahlane

LISTEN: I paid for sound system from my own personal account - Phahlane

Acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane says he paid for his R80 0000 sound system at his house in Pretoria.

Medical students given deadline to accept placements or lose their spots

Medical students given deadline to accept placements or lose their spots

22 medical students who have declined placements for internships could lose their positions to foreign nationals.

Earn peanuts? How to best invest very small amounts...

Earn peanuts? How to best invest very small amounts...

Got a spare R200 or R300 a month? Here’s how to make that money work hard and grow…

How a family butchery became the first Pick n Pay in Diepkloof

How a family butchery became the first Pick n Pay in Diepkloof

The Monageng family started with their mom–and–pop corner butchery in 1972 and now have partnership with Pick n Pay in Soweto.

It's not the end of the road... Top tips to improve your matric

It's not the end of the road... Top tips to improve your matric

"Recognise that it’s not the end, it’s the beginning." Expert advise for school-leavers who want to improve their results.