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.


Recommended

by NEWSROOM AI
Read More
Peak disruption - is the internet revolution almost over?

Peak disruption - is the internet revolution almost over?

The likelihood of seeing a new Alphabet or Alibaba in the next decade is declining.

The world may soon have only one time zone (and a new calender)

The world may soon have only one time zone (and a new calender)

You may think that the time and date is unchanging, but it does change, and it might do so again.

How to use machine learning

How to use machine learning

Machines can already do many tasks better than humans, so use them.

Netflix is fighting a streaming war and we may get burned

Netflix is fighting a streaming war and we may get burned

As more streaming services create the impression of more competition, we may find it just means we all pay more for less.

Making climate change easier to swallow

Making climate change easier to swallow

Veggie burgers are not new, but two companies are not just starting to make money, they are getting meat eaters to eat them.

[Opinion] The past, present and future of voting

[Opinion] The past, present and future of voting

Elections require voting, but what will that look like in the next 25 years?

Popular articles
Investec gives staff unlimited leave days and freedom to wear what they want

Investec gives staff unlimited leave days and freedom to wear what they want

The bank rewards innovation with substantial bonuses and pays according to output not hours at work, says Lesley-Anne Gatter.

JSE Limited lost 10% of its value on Monday

JSE Limited lost 10% of its value on Monday

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews Nicky Newton-King, CEO at the JSE Limited.

We've technologist on record saying she'll not treat patients - Discovery Health

We've technologist on record saying she'll not treat patients - Discovery Health

CEO Dr Broomberg has rubbished reports that a KwaZulu-Natal patient died after the company stopped payments.

'Four days later, I am disappointed with the Sona'

'Four days later, I am disappointed with the Sona'

Eusebius McKaiser facilitates debate with analysts on Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address.

Public Protector has now become a "rogue unit", says Judge Kriegler

Public Protector has now become a "rogue unit", says Judge Kriegler

Busisiwe Mkhwebane is reportedly probing President Cyril Ramaphosa for alleged money laundering to the tune of R400m.

[WATCH] Sho Madjozi first female South African to win BET award

[WATCH] Sho Madjozi first female South African to win BET award

The rapper, singer and songwriting superstar walked away with the best new international act on Sunday evening in Los Angeles.

Gauteng waitress gets R18,000 tip for 'amazing service'

Gauteng waitress gets R18,000 tip for 'amazing service'

A waitress at The Beerhouse in Fourways who received the generous donation wants to finish her matric and become a paramedic.

Billionaire gives away R100 billion, leaving only 0.0002% of fortune for himself

Billionaire gives away R100 billion, leaving only 0.0002% of fortune for himself

You've probably never heard of Chuck Feeney. Nevertheless, he’s one of the strangest, most impactful people who has ever lived.