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Scientists warn of the harmful effects of CRISPR gene editing

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology has revolutionized gene editing and allows scientists to make targeted cuts to DNA.

CRISPR uses the Cas9 enzyme to do this and after target areas have been removed, the DNA repairs itself.

The potential implications of CRISPR are massive as it could help eradicate genetic diseases, but there are still a wide range of ethical concerns about how far is too far when it comes to gene editing.

Now, a new study has found that CRISPR gene-editing can create large-scale unwanted DNA deletions that go by undetected.

Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute conducted the study which was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Because CRISPR involves cutting and rearranging DNA, the researchers found that this can cause mixed up rearrangements as the DNA attempts to repair itself and make unwanted deletions.

“The cell will try to stitch things back together,” said Allan Bradley, the leader of the study. “But it doesn’t really know what bits of DNA lie adjacent to each other.”

Bradley and his team found that CRISPR was deleting strands of DNA that were thousands of letters long and because of the amplifying methods used to test the success of gene edits, these large-scale cuts went unnoticed.

These unforeseen ramifications put a damper on CRISPR’s potential and calls for more stringent testing among researchers.

There are some companies that are on the lookout for large-scale deletions, including eGenesis and Intellia. eGenesis is using gene editing to engineer pig organs so that they are safe for transplant. Itnellia is using CRISPR to study mouse livers but keeping an eye out for large-scale deletions is a routine part of their process.

Gene editing could remove the risk of genetic conditions and diseases but it’s also a process that is not without its flaws as this study shows, and more attention to these large-scale edits is needed by gene editing scientists.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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