Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Scientists are Working on Kill Switches for Genetically Modified Organisms

Gene editing has received a lot of press recently, thanks to a slew of recent advancements that allow scientists to do ever more with plant and animal genomes. Techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas9, are opening the doors to novel genetically modified crops (GMOs), stem cell research, synthetic biology and even experiments with human embryos.

However, with this explosion of research has come intense scrutiny. Modifying DNA, the blueprint of an organism, carries with it powerful implications and unknown risks. Just last week, an international summit on human gene editing was convened in Washington D.C. to discuss ethical guidelines for future gene editing research, among other agenda items. One of the biggest concerns about genetic modification is the potential for engineered microbes with altered DNA to escape the lab and wreak havoc on an unprepared world. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the fear is that these organisms may prove harmful to humans and difficult to stop. Fortunately, scientists have been working hard to ensure this nightmare scenario doesn’t occur.

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