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DNA-editing tools could increase life expectancy, reduce cancer risk in babies

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Researchers have found that babies, whose genes were edited before birth stand the chance of living decades longer.

The researchers also found that the babies could reduce more than halve their risk of developing cancer.

A researcher from the University of Auckland claimed that using DNA-editing tools such as Clustered Regularly Inter-Spaced Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) on egg and sperm cells could make all humans resistant to diseases of old age.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a tool for making precise edits in DNA, discovered in bacteria. The technique uses tags, which identify the location of the mutation, and an enzyme, which acts as tiny scissors to cut DNA in a precise place, allowing small portions of a gene to be removed.

While the controversial new study received criticisms, which states DNA editing, in trying to reduce a person’s risk of one disease, may make the person more susceptible to another, the scientist, Dr Roman Teo Oliynyk, proved that altering dozens or even hundreds of genes that code for conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s or arthritis could help endangered unborn babies, such as those with family history of such disorders, have more healthy years.

Also, Oliynyk claimed that the greatest benefit would occur in cancers, with an endangered foetus being half as likely to get the disease and living up to two decades longer, if the condition were to develop.

Other experts added that poor health is often brought on by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, with the latter being difficult to control.

Buttressing his claims on cancer risk reduction, the researcher looked at a collection of genes that affect a person’s risk of developing certain conditions, such as type 2 diabetes or stroke.

By looking at what genes an individual have, their risk of developing particular diseases can be assessed.

The scientist calculated if someone with more than an average risk of developing a certain disease would have been less susceptible if they had undergone gene editing before birth.

Oliynyk, in his findings, published in the journal biorXiv, said: ‘This research shows that we could potentially use gene editing to make us all resistant to diseases of old age. Cancers on the model show a very significant and lasting improvement.”


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