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Genetic engineering could become terrorist weapon Bill Gates – InterAksyon

Reuters file photo

MUNICH Microsoft founder Bill Gates said at the Munich Security Conference that genetic engineering could be a terrorist weapon and may kill tens of millions of people.

The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu, Gates made the remarks on Saturday.

Having spent billions of U.S. dollars in a philanthropic drive to improve health worldwide, Gates said that bio-terrorism could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year.

Furthermore, he predicted that there is a possibility our globe will experience such an outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years.

Some intelligence agencies have noticed that the Islamic State has been trying to develop biological weapons at its bases in Syria and Iraq, according to the Guardian.

Although the threat seems tiny due to technological support and manpower, the pressure from bio-terrorism has become more and more realistic in the past years.

Getting ready for a global pandemic is every bit as important as nuclear deterrence and avoiding a climate catastrophe. Innovation, cooperation and careful planning can dramatically mitigate the risks presented by each of these threats, said Gates.

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Genetic engineering could become terrorist weapon Bill Gates – InterAksyon

Silent force behind U.Va. genetic engineering – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

CRISPR technology offers potential for genetic manipulation by Kpakpando Anyanwu | Feb 23 2017 | 02/23/17 1:32am

Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats offer the potential to manipulate specific DNA sequences or entire genomes. At the University, use of this technology specifically focuses on practical significance.

[CRISPR] describes a DNA sequence pattern which was first reported in E. coli in 1987, but the acronym was not introduced until 2002 along with Cas (CRISPR-associated proteins), Assoc. Medical Prof. Wenhao Xu said in an email to the Cavalier Daily. The function of CRISPR/Cas was revealed in 2005 as the acquired immunity against viruses in prokaryotes. The system was reconstructed in a test tube as a tool for programmable genome editing in a landmark publication in 2012. Quickly, the system was shown to work effectively in both human cell lines and mice.

Xus focus with CRISPR has been intensively concentrated in the Genetically Engineered Murine Model core.

The GEMM began to adopt the CRISPR technology only one week after the [2012] publication on mice and made the first CRISPR mouse at U.Va. eight weeks after, Xu said. We have now successfully generated more than 100 CRISPR mice including knockouts and knock-ins.

CRISPR enables engineers to use mice as primary models mimicking both human structure and function that can then be used to study human diseases.

Following a process of differentiation, cells are typically fated to remain in specific organs and serve a particular function. Stem cells retain the potential to develop into different cell types. A distinct characteristic of CRISPR is its ability to change a cells fate.

In our body, we have about 200 different cell types and they all come from single cells called rhizomes, Asst. Medical Prof. Mazhar Adli said. Stem cells basically differentiate, and become all sorts of different cells in our body.

The Adli lab focuses on understanding genome-level regulation in development, specifically researching cancer pathogenesis and treatment. Use of the CRISPR/CAS9 system and the genetic manipulation it allows provide a means of monitoring cellular state transitions during normal and malignant development.

Due to its extensive use and benefits in the field of genetic engineering, CRISPR is regarded as an advanced system with the potential to alter the future of the medical field.

CRISPR is now becoming a widely-used technology tool for research and clinical trials, Adli said.

At the University, the technology offers insight into the relationship between genes, cells and disease facilitating the discovery of new ways for the improvement of health.

Genetic engineering is not new, and yet the CRISPR as a powerful and precise genome editing tool holds a tremendous promise for understanding and treating many human genetic disorders in the future, Xu said.

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Silent force behind U.Va. genetic engineering – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

Proceed with caution on genetic engineering – The Straits Times

Last week, an international panel of scientists and ethicists concluded that changing heritable aspects in human genes would be permissible under certain conditions, going further than any previous mainstream group in endorsing the long-term aim of producing gene-edited babies (“Gene-edited babies: From red light to orange… and then green?”; Feb 20).

The most straightforward and unique advantage of genetic engineering is that it prevents the inheritance of devastating genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, beta thalassemia or Huntington’s disease.

It could also be used to modify genes to lower the risk of contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS.

However, it may be impossible to draw a line between using this technology for “therapy” and using it for “enhancement”.

On practical grounds, genetic enhancement procedures could potentially lead to the widening of the rich-poor divide in society, as the wealthy would be able to engineer smarter, healthier and more attractive children, thus giving them even greater advantages in life.

From an ethical point of view, it is important to consider whether parents or medical professionals have the inherent right to alter a baby before it has been born.

As scientists focus on accomplishments and whether a thing can be done, they must also stop to ask if it should be done.

A baby cannot consent to having his body altered. Genetically engineering a child would be a violation of his fundamental right to bodily integrity.

Another ethical issue to consider would be the loss of individuality in a society that prides itself on conformity. This could open the door to eugenics.

It would be wise to exercise caution on this issue. As scientists focus on accomplishments and whether a thing can be done, they must also stop to ask if it should be done.

International scientific bodies should not only implement stringent regulations on genetic engineering practices, but also engage actively and effectively with politicians and the public to ensure a sturdy legal framework.

Denise Lee Hui Jean (Ms)

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Proceed with caution on genetic engineering – The Straits Times

National Academy Calls for Public Input on Human Genetic … – WCAI – WCAI

New recommendations for human genome editing

Given how controversial genetically modified corn is, it’s no wonder that the prospect of genetically modifying humans pushes a lot of people’s buttons. But we already have gene therapies, and new technologies are making it faster, safer, and less expensive to modify the human genome in a range of ways. That has the science community and policymakers scrambling to set responsible guidelines for the use of genome editing.

In 2015, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing recommended holding off until the methods could be shown safe and effective, and until there was some public consensus about their use. Last week, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released recommendations that suggested at least some of those criteria had been met.

The bottom line, according to report co-chair Richard Hynes of M.I.T., is this:

In all cases, the panel recommended public input on the appropriate uses of genome editing. But there remain enormous questions – what that public engagement should look like, how consensus might be defined or achieved, and how public opinion would translate into federal – or even international – policy.

Guests:

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National Academy Calls for Public Input on Human Genetic … – WCAI – WCAI

This Is What Real Human Genetic Engineering Looks Like – Pacific Standard

A cancer treatment with genetically engineered cells may change how we think about human modification.

By Michael White

When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein 200 years ago, there was no such thing as genetic engineering, and nobody knew what a gene was. But Shelleys sense that it is wrong, even monstrous, to tinker with the building blocks of life haunts genetic engineering today. This is especially true of human genetic engineering, which our popular culture often portrays as an obsession of mad scientists or a totalitarian tool of social control. Weve inherited our views of human genetic engineering from a time when it was just an idea, not a reality. But now that the reality is here, it turns out that widespread human genetic engineering, at least in its initial form, wont look as radical as we thought it would.

One sign that routine human genetic engineering has nearly arrived appeared earlier this month, when the Food and Drug Administration allowed French biotechnology company Cellectis to initiate United States clinical trials for a new cancer therapy. The therapy is based on so-called CAR-T cells (chimeric antigen receptor T cells), which are human immune cells genetically engineered to be cancer fighters. Various forms of CAR-T therapy have been in clinical trials for a few years now, and scientists first started trying to build the cells in the late 1980s. But whats notable about the Cellectis CAR-T cells is that they are the first off-the-shelf version. That is, unlike other CAR-T therapieswhich are custom products made by genetically engineering each patients own cellsCellectis manufactures CAR-T cells from healthy donors. Human genetic engineering is about to become a commodity trade.

Whats striking about CAR-T therapiesboth the custom form and Cellectis off-the-shelf versionis that they are simultaneously a radical departure and an incremental step from existing medical techniques. In practice, CAR-T therapies involve a familiar procedure, the transfer of cells into a patient to treat an illness. The first successful human blood transfusion was performed in 1818 (coincidentally, the year Frankenstein was published), and the first bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia occurred in the 1950s. Seen from this angle, CAR-T therapy is just a new variation on an old theme.

But though CAR-T therapy may look familiar, it is unprecedented. The first CAR-T treatments for cancer may become generally available within the year, despite some recent setbacks. This means that, over the coming years, there will likely be hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions, of people treated with genetically engineered human cells. This is what the first widespread use of human genetic engineering is going to look like.

Scientists have long anticipated this development because the powerful genetic tools that we routinely use to control biology in a petri dish have such obvious medical potential. We shut genes on or off at will, add or subtract them, and even build synthetic genes with new functions. The advantage of genetic engineering for medicine is that, unlike chemical drugs, cells are functioning systems with the ability to sense signals, to make decisions, and to perform complex behaviors. Cellular signal-sensing and decision-making are key built-in features of the cells that make up our immune system; CAR-T technology harnesses those abilities to help the immune system train its tremendous firepower on cancer cells. Genetic engineering is essentially a form of biological reprogramming, and scientists talk about building CAR-T cells with AND, NOT, and OR circuits; feedback control systems; and kill switches. No drug will ever have those capabilities.

Reprogramming human biology like this may sound ethically suspect in the abstract, but when were talking about a life-saving therapy for someones child or grandparent, its hard not to be sympathetic. Human genetic engineering is thus making its entrance to society as a medical treatment that, on the surface, seems incremental, avoiding the drama and questionable ethics that we expected.

There is an upside and downside to this. The obvious benefits of something like CAR-T therapy make it easier to set aside any knee-jerk moral disgust with genetic engineering, and instead think clearly about ethical boundaries. But the risk is that we become too complacent about the ethics, especially as genetic engineering for health purposes comes to seem normal.

For this reason, its fortunate that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has just released a report laying out ethical guidelines for human genetic engineering. Recognizing that human genetic engineering is no longer just a fantasy, the report lays out two key questions we should ask ourselves as we consider whether particular cases of human genetic engineering are justified.

Most importantly, we should ask: Is the genetic change limited to one person, or will it be passed on to future generations? Patients who receive CAR-T cells dont transmit the genetic edits on to their children, and thus each patient can choose for herself whether to accept any risks posed by genetic engineering. But children who are born from genetically modified embryos will pass on those modifications, together with any associated health risks or social stigmas, to their descendants. The National Academy report therefore argues that we should set a much higher ethical bar for genetic edits to human embryos, only allowing them as a last resort to prevent certain inherited genetic diseases.

The second question to pose is: What is the purpose of the genetic editsto cure disease or to simply enhance human abilities? The report recommends that human genetic engineering should only be aimed at curing disease, and that genome editing for enhancement should not be allowed at this time. That rules out genetic engineering to, say, make someone a better athlete. Why? The report provides two reasons: First, the technology still poses risks that arent outweighed by any benefits of enhancement. And second, the public doesnt seem ready to go there yet. A society in which only the rich have access to genetic enhancements, or, conversely, where everyone is under tremendous social pressure to buy such enhancements, sounds as dystopic as science fiction.

But the question of what qualifies as enhancement is almost certainly going to be a sticking point, because there is a wide range of things you can do between curing cancer and producing super-athletes. What if a company sells a product like CAR-T cells that, rather than fighting cancer, prevents it instead? If you use genetic engineering to lower your cancer risk, is that enhancement? If it is, why should we reject it?

The National Academy report purposely leaves the answer to such questions unanswered, recognizing that there are inevitable differences, rooted in national cultures, that will shape perspectives on whether and how to use these technologies. Our national cultures perspective has been shaped by 200 years of science fiction. But as human genetic engineering becomes realtaking the form of a life-saving cancer treatmentwe will get used to it, and our perspective is likely to change.

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This Is What Real Human Genetic Engineering Looks Like – Pacific Standard

Is Genetic Engineering Recreating the Sin of Noah’s Generation? – Breaking Israel News

Consider the work of God; for who can make that straight, which He hath made crooked? Ecclesiastes 7:13 (The Israel Bible)

(Shutterstock)

New technology enabling scientists to manipulate genes, mixing human genes and organs with those of animals, is a disturbing trend in science which one rabbi believes mirrors the sin that led to global destruction in the generation of Noah.

Last week, the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine released a new report including recommendations to ensure genetic research done in the United States is performed responsibly and ethically. In essence, this report gave the greenlight to gene research, even though funding for such research is currently banned by the government because of the ethical dilemmas it raises.

The new technology bears with it practical risk. Genetic research can take two forms: gene editing to cure or prevent disease, and gene editing to enhance humans. Genetics is uncharted territory and scientists could accidentally introduce a dangerous mutation that will harm future generations, or, in an attempt to create vaccines, inadvertently create a superior form of the disease which could threaten mankind.

Rabbi Moshe Avraham Halperin of the Machon Madai Technology Al Pi Halacha (the Institute for Science and Technology According to Jewish Law) stated in response to the report that there are clear Torah guidelines for this new technology. Rabbi Halperin referred to the Biblical law concerning mixing of species.

Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee. Leviticus 19:19

It is forbidden to create a creature that is a mixture of species, but as long as they are not producing a new creature that has a different form, it is permitted, Rabbi Halperin told Breaking Israel News.

However, he noted, Improving species, even the human race, is not forbidden by Jewish law. Changing the color of the skin or hair is permitted, even more so when it concerns removing genetic maladies. But the process certainly needs oversight.

Rabbi Yosef Berger, rabbi of the Tomb of King David on Mount Zion, stressed that the issue of mixing species had serious Biblical ramifications, noting that the verse forbidding mixing breeds of animals directly preceded a section of the Torah dealing with sexual impropriety.

And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. Leviticus 19:20

The rabbi explained the connection between the two distinct commandments.

This is also expressed in the sin of the generation of Noah, which, according to Jewish tradition was the forbidden mixing of animals and man, Rabbi Berger told Breaking Israel News, quoting Genesis.

And Hashem said: I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them. Genesis 6:7

Noahs generation sinned sexually, but it was expressed in the mixing of species, he explained.

This sexual sin could prevent the coming Messianic era as the connection between man and woman is a holy part of the process of bringing geula (redemption). This is the basis of the requirement to be fruitful and multiply: to bring Moshiach (Messiah).

Rabbi Berger stressed that this mitzvah(Torah commandment) requires a proper level of purity. Mixing of species is an improper manifestation of procreation that led to the destruction of the generation of Noah.

Thus, even when saving lives, one of the most important mitzvot, one must be mindful of dangers and limits, Rabbi Berger cautioned.

The limits of science and ethics are indeed being expanded and tested in remarkable ways. In 2015, several groundbreaking experiments took place in genetic engineering. A herd of cloned cattle, genetically engineered with human DNA, were used to incubate antibodies against the Ebola virus. In the same year, scientists at Duke University announced that they had successfully boosted brain size in mice by using human DNA as a catalyst.

Also at Duke, kidneys from aborted human fetuses were transplanted into rats in order to determine if human organs could be grown in animals, solving the problem of organ donations.

In one particularly disturbing case, geneticists in China modified the DNA of human embryos, concentrating on the gene responsible for -thalassaemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder. However, in their final report, the researchers said they found a surprising number of unintended mutations.

These experiments illustrate just some of the astounding areas researchers are exploring. The science involved is staggering, but the ethical considerations are even more perplexing, and less likely to receive clear-cut answers.

Certain areas of research in the United States are stalled until the issue of abortions is resolved, establishing once and for all the legal status of fetuses and embryos. Manipulating genes in utero to eradicate genetic disease can alleviate great suffering, but brushes up against eugenics, the intentional improving of the human race. Negative eugenics were first espoused by the Nazis and other racist ideologies as a method of creating a master race.

The research takes on dark spiritual overtones in the context of the growing transhumanism movement, which believes that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations by means of science and technology.

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Is Genetic Engineering Recreating the Sin of Noah’s Generation? – Breaking Israel News

Genetic Engineering Market Reshaping the Fundamentals Of Entire Economies And Industries Around The Globe … – Satellite PR News (press release)

Genetic Engineering Market Reshaping the Fundamentals Of Entire Economies And Industries Around The Globe …
Satellite PR News (press release)
Genetic Engineering Market Research Report covers the present scenario and the growth prospects of the Genetic Engineering Market for 2016-2020. To calculate the market size, the report considers the revenue generated from the sales of Genetic …

and more »

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Genetic Engineering Market Reshaping the Fundamentals Of Entire Economies And Industries Around The Globe … – Satellite PR News (press release)

Bill Gates warns tens of millions could be killed by bio-terrorism – The Guardian

A chilling warning that tens of millions of people could be killed by bio-terrorism was delivered at the Munich security conference by the worlds richest man, Bill Gates

Gates, who has spent much of the last 20 years funding a global health campaign, said: We ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril.

Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft who has spent billions in a philanthropic drive to improve health worldwide, said: The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus … or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu.

US and UK intelligence agencies have said that Islamic State has been trying to develop biological weapons at its bases in Syria and Iraq. However, they have played down the threat, saying that the terrorists would need people with the necessary skills, good laboratories and a relatively calm environment free from the confusion and chaos of conflict zones.

Yet other security specialists say the threat from bio-terrorism has become more realistic over the past decade, particularly the past five years, with changes in molecular biology that make development of biological weapons more accessible.

Gates, making his first appearance at the Munich security conference on Saturday, said: Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year. And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years.

He added: Its hard to get your mind around a catastrophe of that scale, but it happened not that long ago. In 1918, a particularly virulent and deadly strain of flu killed between 50 million and 100 million people.

You might be wondering how real these doomsday scenarios really are. The fact that a deadly global pandemic has not occurred in recent history shouldnt be mistaken for evidence that a deadly pandemic will not occur in the future. And even if the next pandemic isnt on the scale of the 1918 flu, we would be wise to consider the social and economic turmoil that might ensue if something like ebola made its way into urban centres.

Gates said advances in biotechnology, new vaccines and drugs could help prevent epidemics spreading out of control. Most of the things we need to do to protect against a naturally occurring pandemic are the same things we must prepare for an intentional biological attack, he said.

Getting ready for a global pandemic is every bit as important as nuclear deterrence and avoiding a climate catastrophe. Innovation, cooperation and careful planning can dramatically mitigate the risks presented by each of these threats.

The international community, Gates told the conference, needed to prepare for epidemics the way the military prepared for war: This includes germ games and other preparedness exercises so we can better understand how diseases will spread, how people will respond in a panic and how to deal with things like overloaded highways and communications systems.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published an Ipsos Mori poll saying that 71% of Britons aged between 16 and 75 are more concerned about the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola or Zika than war with other nations. Just over two-thirds said they were concerned about war, while 83% said violent terrorist attacks were their main concern.

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Bill Gates warns tens of millions could be killed by bio-terrorism – The Guardian

The Public Should Have a Say in Allowing Modification of Our Germline Genetic Code – Scientific American (blog)

The National Academies of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine today published a report Human Genome Editing: Science, Ethics, and Governance that contends with uses of gene editing for human reproductive purposes, prospects which have been brought into vivid reality since the emergence of new biotechnology tools such as the gene modification system, Crispr-Cas9. The report suggests limitations on genetic engineering to the heritable germline code of embryos, or even earlier upstream in the process, sperm and ovum, which convey information passed on to subsequent generations.

However, the report appears to exclude the public from participation and concludes that clinical trials using heritable germline genome editing should be permitted. They should notnot without public discussion and a more conscious evaluation of how this impacts social standing, stigma and identity, ethics that scientists often tendto cite pro forma and then swiftly scuttle.

The statement is a striking reversal in outlook of leadership since just a year ago in December 2015, when the International Summit on Human Gene Editing was held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C., a conference which I attended, also drawing Nobel laureates, lawmakers, and bioethicists from across the globe, and declaring that a broad societal consensus be attained before moving ahead with altering heritable code. Indeed, weeks after the Summit, U.S. lawmakers added a rider to an omnibus spending bill to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from spending time or money reviewing applications of gene modification to heritable code.

Unlike more than 40 other countries, and an international treaty Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, the U.S. does not have a legal ban on modification to heritable code, but it does have a strong regulatory framework on drugs, and federal agencies treat Crispr-Cas9 as a drug. But the limitations on heritable code are only in effect temporarily in so far that spending is restricted on applications FDA can review.

Marcy Darnovsky, director for the Center for Genetics and Society noted the report appears to send from scientists to lawmakers a green light for proceeding with efforts to engineer the genes and traits that are passed on to future children and generations while noting that it excludes the public from participation in deciding whether human germline modification is acceptable in the first place.

In fact, there are a number of critical arguments on how we determine what is acceptable. The first is technical. The field of genetics is by no means accomplished. A group called the Human Aggregation Consortium just last year revealed that of 192 high frequency genetic variants that had previously been considered pathogenic, only nine are likely harmfulan important clarification for anyone wanting to recode their genome. Most mutations have very small effects on biological traits, and we know very little about how genetic variants enhance or diminish other genetic variants and differ based on genetic background.

Secondly, as Darnovsky, and Hille Haker, a bioethicist from Loyola University in Chicago, have pointed out that gene modification in combination with reproductive technologies to engender a genetically connected child is not a medical necessity. There is a difference between a negative right, which is a freedom from, a harm, and a full positive right, which is a freedom to access or gain some benefits. If a gene-edited child were a full positive right, society would be required to pay for all of its citizens to have children, apply genetic tests, gene modification and in vitro fertilization techniques to anyone who wants one. Importantly, scientists who patent gene modification systems such as Crispr-Cas9 have an interest in selling it as much as possible, which means the scientists themselves cannot be left solely responsible for shaping the moral frameworkthe public has an important role to play in shaping the morays around science today more than ever. Andthe debates are becoming more nuanced and sophisticated as gene editing systems such as Crispr-Cas9 allow us to do things like circumvent the oldcause celebreof altering human embryos, by editing heritable code in the sperm or eggs.

Our genomes are a constantly undergoing alteration and it would be incorrect to conceive of them as sacrosanct. Genes are shuffled with each new generation so its unlikely that gene editing will give some families permanent advantages. The theory of evolution suggests that we adapt to local conditions rather than progress to a more perfect form. But gene modification risks market based eugenics, meaning putting values on certain traits, and seeking to eliminate other traits, when genetic variants that contribute to many features such as autism, neuropsychiatric disorders, may be less a disease as ways of being in the world.

Evolution does not create values, we do. And we risk molding our children into commodities we would like to have, rather than emphasizing the people they can become. Darnovsky wrote the problem is stigmatizing people with disabilities, exacerbating existing inequalities, and introducing new eugenic abuses. Strangely, theres no apparent connection between those dire risks and the recommendation to move ahead. Thephilosopher-scientist Jean Rostand wrote a generation ago, science hasmade us godsevenbeforewe are worthy of beingmen. But those are professional experts. Its time to hear more from the public on what we think.

Jim Kozubek is the author ofModern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr-Cas9

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Jim Kozubek

Jim Kozubek is the author of Modern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr-Cas9 (Cambridge University Press)

Credit: Nick Higgins

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The Public Should Have a Say in Allowing Modification of Our Germline Genetic Code – Scientific American (blog)

Bringing back the woolly mammoth – Patheos (blog)

From Hannah Devlin, Woolly mammoth on the verge of resurrection, scientists say | Science | The Guardian:

The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering.

Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the de-extinction effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant.

Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo, said Prof George Church. Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. Were not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.

The creature, sometimes referred to as a mammophant, would be partly elephant, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes for these traits are spliced into the elephant DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr.

Until now, the team have stopped at the cell stage, but are now moving towards creating embryos although, they said that it would be many years before any serious attempt at producing a living creature.

Illustration by Flying Puffin (Mammut Uploaded by FunkMonk) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Bringing back the woolly mammoth – Patheos (blog)

US Scientists Have Backed the Genetic Modification of Human Embryos – Futurism

Gene Editing

Since the debate about the moral ramifications behind CRISPRbegan, the scientific communitys stance has generally leaned towards caution versus support. Researchers recognize the potential, but gene editing and its implications on the future of the human race are so massive its not something to be taken lightly.

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) however, shows how the scientific community is beginning to soften their stance on the subject. Co-Chair of the study committee Alta Charo points out:

Human genome editing holds tremendous promise for understanding, treating, or preventing many devastating genetic diseases, and for improving treatment of many other illnesses. However, genome editing to enhance traits or abilities beyond ordinary health raises concerns about whether the benefits can outweigh the risks, and about fairness if available only to some people.

The paper also goes on to support germ-line engineering, a process that allows people to have biological children while ensuring that they dont pass on serious genetic diseases to their offspring but only if there are no reasonable alternatives available. To that end, scientists are calling for more stringent regulations. They concede that global prohibition of the technique is not practical, especially in the interest of safety and efficacy.

Genome editing research is very much an international endeavor, and all nations should ensure that any potential clinical applications reflect societal values and be subject to appropriate oversight and regulation, said committee co-chair Richard Hynes, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These overarching principles and the responsibilities that flow from them should be reflected in each nations scientific community and regulatory processes.

The biggest concern that experts have over gene editing is anchored on the very real possibility that it will be used to create designer babies. All efforts now are centered on using CRISPR to prevent inherited disease. But whos to say that the same principles wont be used to engineer traits like strength, beauty, or intelligence?

That said, what if only some peoplehave access to this tool in the future? Could itcreate a social divide between engineered babies and naturally born ones? The risks also arent entirely known. While rare, there are instances where CRISPR edits DNA in unintended places, which could result in unforeseen consequences.

Of course, were still pretty far off from a designer baby being born. Right now, the gene editing technique is still being tested in animals, and it will take a significant amount of time and research before it will be ready for humans. But thats not to say that we shouldnt already be having a conversation about where this advancement will take us.

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US Scientists Have Backed the Genetic Modification of Human Embryos – Futurism

Scientists Want to Genetically Engineer Humans – National Review

I first became involved deeply in the debates over biotechnology during the great embryonic stem cell debate.

During that time, I watched in stunned and appalled amazement as scientists lied to legislators and hyped the imminent likelihood of CURES! CURES! CURES! in order to win a political debate and gain federal research grants.

During that experience, Iconcluded that many in the sector essentially have an arrogant we decide what should and should not be done in science ethicrather thansociety as a whole determining proper parameters through democratic processesand moreover, that somehave an essentially anything goes mentality at odds with the views of the rest of society.

More, these advocatespretend to be willing to accept reasonable limitations. But a close look reveals these restraints are primarily over things they cannot yet do.

Then, aftera controversial technology becomes doable, the once unthinkable is suddenly moved into the full speed ahead! file.

Now, that pattern holds with human genetic engineering. From the New York Times story:

An influential science advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine on Tuesday lent its support to a once unthinkable proposition: the modification of human embryos to create genetic traits that can be passed down to future generations.

This type of human gene editing has long been seen as an ethical minefield. Researchers fear that the techniques used to prevent genetic diseases might also be used to enhance intelligence, for example, or to create people physically suited to particular tasks, like serving as soldiers

Just over a year ago, an international group of scientists said it would be irresponsible to proceed with making heritable changes to the human genome until risks could be better assessed and there was broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of any proposed change. No one is pretending that such a consensus now exists.

But in the year that the committee was deliberating, [bioethicist] Ms. [Alta] Charo said, the techniques required to perform this sort of gene editing have passed crucial milestones.

See what I mean?

Know this: It starts with health and that justification is deployed to sway the public and regulators.

But soon, these technologies move to promoting enhancement and eugenic designalready seen in currently deployed reproductive technologies.

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Scientists Want to Genetically Engineer Humans – National Review

Genetically Engineered Mice DGAF About Cocaine – Inverse

Researchers have been creating drug-addicted laboratory mice for years, but now, theyve created one capable of just saying no. Armed with extra-strong synapses created through genetic engineering, the new mice were able to resist addiction, even when presented with an ODs worth of cocaine. The freak mice were discovered by accident: The genetic engineering strategy that produced them was originally thought to make them more prone to addiction.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers, publishing their work in a new Nature Neuroscience article today, custom-designed mice that produced higher-than-usual levels of the protein cadherin, which strengthened their brains synapses, the gaps between neurons that brain signals jump over. They originally thought that strengthening the reward-associated parts of the brain with cadherin would make the mice more addiction prone, but when the cadherin-strengthened mice were injected with enough cocaine to become addicted and then given the option to seek out some more coke or not, they were only half as interested in the substance as their unaltered counterparts.

A close examination of this counterintuitive result revealed that cadherin inhibits a particular neurochemical receptor in the mices brains, making it harder not easier for some neurons to signal each other. With cadherin interfering with their brains signals, the mice dont anticipate the pleasure derived from cocaine and, in turn, their behavior is not affected. In short, the mice seem to be addiction-proof.

The strength of our synapses is, among other factors, what helps us learn new tasks and make new associations, but the engineered mice appeared to have formed no strong associations about cocaine, despite being injected repeatedly. The experiments results reinforce previous theories that cadherin plays a vital role in addiction and behavioral change, though the exact nature of that role still isnt clear.

Shernaz Bamji, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences and one of the papers authors, explained to Inverse that these results mean it could some day be possible to treat addiction by changing the way learning occurs in certain areas of the brain itself, whether through cadherin, or using some other chemical. The more we learn about which functions within the brain we should be focusing on, she says, the closer we come to being able to predict who will be the most vulnerable to addiction. The results, however, do not mean doctors can start fortifying addiction-prone humans with cadherin the way Bamji and her colleagues did with the mice theres a lot we still have to understand about the neurochemistry of learning before we do that.

For normal learning, we need to be able to both weaken and strengthen synapses, Bamji said in a statement. That plasticity allows for the pruning of some neural pathways and the formation of others, enabling the brain to adapt and to learn. Ideally, we would need to find a molecule that blocks formation of a memory of a drug-induced high, while not interfering with the ability to remember important things.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence against the idea that addiction is all about an individuals lack of willpower. Such arguments are usually lazy substitutions for the actual science, which says that addiction to substances like cocaine has a lot to do with our genes. Some people have genetic mutations that leave their synapses more vulnerable to addictive substances. Fortunately, geneticists are now one step closer to figuring out how to strengthen those synapses before theyre attacked.

Photos via University of British Columbia, Science News / V. Kumar and K. Kim

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Genetically Engineered Mice DGAF About Cocaine – Inverse

Top Science Organization Cautiously Supports Genetically Engineering Humans – Gizmodo

Human mesenchymal stem cells (Image: Rose Spear/Flickr)

New gene editing methods like CRISPR/Cas9 have given scientists unprecedented potential to edit human DNA. But how should researchers in the field actually use these methods, especially when editing traits that can be passed down to children? Should they be used to cure disease? Should they be used to enhance features that arent necessary for our survival?

Were definitely far from seeing X-men mutants and genetically modified superhumans from whatever dystopian young adult novel you may be reading, especially in the United States where lawmakers passed legislation preventing government money from funding this kind of research. That hasnt stopped researchers in other countries like China from creating gene-edited embryos, which has some scientists very concerned. Today, the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine released a major new report and recommendations to ensure any such research done stateside in the future is performed responsibly and ethically.

The implicit message is that whether we like it or not, a future of gene-edited humans is on its way.

Although scientists have been able to chop up DNA for decades, precise new tools like CRISPR/Cas9 make it easier than ever to experiment with gene-edited livestock, or using gene-edited cells to help fight cancer in humans, for instance. But CRISPRs relative ease of use has caused many to worry about the ethical implications of germline editing, or editing traits in cells that could be passed on to later generations. A commentary published in 2015 in Nature warns that gene editing humans could have unpredictable effects on future generations.

The new National Academies report is an attempt to offer guidance both for germline editing to cure disease, as well as for enhancementmaking stronger, smarter, better humansshould the funding ban in the United States lift.

The Academies ruling on germline editing for curing inherited diseases is basically that scientists need to be very careful. The group recommends only permitting such procedures with lots of oversight, so long as researchers dont have better treatment options, know for a fact the gene theyre editing causes disease, are editing the gene to match the naturally-occurring healthy version, and perform rigorous research including clinical trials and multi-generational follow-up studies. After all, they need to ensure they havent accidentally introduced some dangerous mutation that will harm future humans.

As far as editing germline cells for human enhancement, the Academies said no wayat least, not yet. They hope to see further public discussion to make sure people are okay with what we might be doing to our species. I think its basically a lets buy some time, director of New York Universitys Division of Medical Ethics Arthur Caplan told Gizmodo. Its not inappropriate to buy some time. The techniques are new and we dont know if theyre safe. Plus, the technology isnt even close to making superbabies, although that hasnt stopped ethicists from considering the moral conundrum superbabies pose.

Caplan was concerned that the report didnt more strongly recommend testing any potential gene editing procedures in animals first, or discuss who actually owns the rights to various gene editing methods and how much they will cost. Im very worried about access, he said. Whos keeping an eye on the prices that will be charged? Will this be another repeat of the drug price problems?

Ultimately, the Academies and Caplan hope to see more communication between the scientists and the public about how we as a society feel about gene editing. The reality is the scientific community hasnt really spent enough resources thinking about how to really engage the public, said Caplan. They have to do more surveys, better outreach, use the internet more. The report is quiet about that…Weve gotta get more creative than weve been.

Update 1:55PM: Some are disappointed with the Academies statement, which approves of genetic engineering despite the cautious wording. The Center for Genetics and Society sent Gizmodo a statement including the following quote:

The recommendations and conclusions of this report are unsettling and disappointing, said Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society. Although theyre couched in apparently cautionary language, they actually constitute a green light for proceeding with efforts to modify the human germlinethat is, to engineer the genes and traits that are passed on to future children and generations.

In December 2015, the National Academies International Summit on Human Gene Editing concluded with a statement that it would be irresponsible to proceed with human germline modification unless and until a broad societal consensus had been reached. Todays report dispenses with the idea of meaningful public participation in this profoundly consequential decision, Darnovsky said. It calls for `continued public engagement [page 146] with the details, but excludes the public from participation in deciding whether human germline modification is acceptable in the first place.

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Top Science Organization Cautiously Supports Genetically Engineering Humans – Gizmodo

The Genetic Engineering Generation – Huffington Post

This post is hosted on the Huffington Post’s Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and post freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Over a year ago, I read an article about the genetic engineering of human embryos and I immediately knew that the world was in trouble. Todays article in The Times has only confirmed my fears.

I don’t fear scientific progress or the eventual certainty that our species will customize offspring like video game characters. I accept that people will one day be born who are immune to cancer, asthma, and blindness. When that day comes, when the benefits of genetic engineering have been studied, tested, and perfected, the results will be extraordinary: a world where – physically speaking at least – no one will ever be born unlucky.

Creating a world free from the misfortunes of birth defects and genetic diseases will truly be one of our species’ greatest accomplishments. The trouble, though, is how we get there.

Those of us alive today are going to live through a complicated transition. Some day in the next decade or two, some of us will be regular people, and some of us will have been born with the benefits of genetic engineering.

How are you going to react to the other side?

How will you feel about a “designer baby” who grows up and competes for your job or takes your child’s place at an elite college? Should these people have less rights than you and me? Or should they should have special protections, considering the resentment they are sure to engender?

These are the questions I set out to explore in my novel, The Ones, and it is urgent that we as society begin to address these issues now.

Consider what scientists are already capable of: the relatively recent discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 has created a gene editing tool that can cut, add, or replace parts of our DNA sequence. Think of this as similar to the “find and replace” function in your word processing program.

Altering DNA used to be painstaking and imprecise. Now, with CRISPR and a computer, Darwin could bang out a new finch family from the Beagle business center.

Even more remarkable, whatever changes are made in the original DNA of a human embryo would endure unaltered in the germline. In layman’s terms, this means that future generations would continue to have this altered gene – forever. The potential effects on the genetic makeup of humanity are extraordinary and totally unpredictable.

A real-world experiment along these lines is beginning to play out already, albeit not with humans. Using CRISPR technology, biologists have been able to engineer female mosquitos that pass defective breeding genes to all of their offspring, in effect creating a generation of sterile mosquitos that cannot propagate their species. The benefits of releasing these genetically engineered females into an area beset by Zika or malaria are easy to see.

It is striking to note that laws concerning this technology are different in every country. Some nations have banned research in the field outright. Here in America, there are strict guidelines, but no legally enforceable restrictions. Besides the odd headline, why is no one talking about this? When was the last time you heard a politician utter the words genetic engineering?

For now, much of the world appears to be operating under the policy of let’s-agree-not-to-do-anything-too-crazy. Call me a cynic, but pretty much all of history proves this policy is a recipe for disaster. Stopping advances in technology is impossible; waiting too long to deal with them responsibly is all too common.

As with most new technology, only the very wealthiest citizens will have access to genetic engineering at first. Will this benefit be tolerated by the rest of the natural-born masses? Should it? Could this divide lead to outright war?

Today, in America and around the world, ambitious scientists are pushing the envelope on gene editing. Their motives may be driven by altruism, profit or curiosity. One country might want better Olympic athletes. Perhaps another country identifies the genes for scientific aptitude and tries to breed a genius who can solve global warming. No matter what prompts the advancements, the results are inevitable: a new category of humans will be born.

We should embrace this new generation with both a wary eye and open arms. But let’s get our act together now so we can nail that awkward hug.

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The Genetic Engineering Generation – Huffington Post

Biohacker crackdown? Germany threatens gene-editing hobbyists with fines, jail – Genetic Literacy Project

The German governmentis none too pleased with [how easily people can conduct gene editing experiments outside of labs thanks to advances in science][Its] consumer protection office [recently]issued a statement: Any science enthusiast doing genetic engineering outside of a licensed facility, it wrote, might face a fine of 50,000 or up to three years in prison.

The statement sent a wave of shock through the DIY bio community.

The law behind the German DIY bio crackdown isnt new. The government was simply reminding so-called biohackers of a long-existing law that forbids genetic engineering experiments outside of laboratories supervised and licensed by the state.

Im pretty sure that laws will prohibit me from continuing my research at a later state, said Bruno Lederer, a German biohacker who hopes that loopholes in the law will allow his work to continue for now. I think its a shame that Id have to do illegal things in order to do independent research.

Community biology labsshouldnt have an issue getting licensed. But not every DIY scientist lives near or has the resources to join a community lab. If the DIY bio movement is about making science accessible to those outside the Ivory Tower of academia, the German governments statement represents a serious roadblock.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post:Germany Is Threatening Biohackers With Prison

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Biohacker crackdown? Germany threatens gene-editing hobbyists with fines, jail – Genetic Literacy Project

Genetic Engineering | MSPCA-Angell

The MSPCAbelieves scientists ability to clone animals, to alter the genetic makeup of an animal, and to transfer pieces of genetic material from one species to another raises serious concerns for animals and humans alike.

This pagewill explore issues related to genetic engineering, transgenic animals, and cloned animals. It will examine the implications of genetic engineering on human and animal welfare and will touch on some related moral and ethical concerns that our society has so far failed to completely address.

Definitions

Problems related to the physical and psychological well-being of cloned and transgenic animals, significant ethical concerns about the direct manipulation of genetic material, and questions about the value of life itself must all be carefully weighed against the potential benefits of genetic engineering for disease research, agricultural purposes, vaccine development, pharmaceutical products, and organ transplants.

Genetic engineering is, as yet, an imperfect science that yields imperfect results.

Changes in animal growth and development brought about by genetic engineering and cloning are less predictable, more rapid, and often more debilitating than changes brought about through the traditional process of selective breeding.

This is especially apparent with cloning. Success rates are incredibly low; on average, less than 5% of cloned embryos are born and survive.

Clones are created at a great cost to animals. The clones that are successful, as well as those that do not survive and the surrogates who carry them, suffer greatly.Many of the cloned animals that do survive are plagued by severe health problems.

Offspring suffer from severe birth defects such as Large Offspring Syndrome (LOS), in which the cloned offspring are significantly larger than normal fetuses; hydrops, a typically fatal condition in which the mother or the fetus swells with fluid; respiratory distress; developmental problems; malformed organs; musculoskeletal deformities; or weakened immune systems, to name only a few.

Additionally, surrogates are subjected to repeated invasive procedures to harvest their eggs, implant embryos, or due to the offsprings birth defects surgical intervention to deliver their offspring. All of these problems occur at much higher rates than for offspring produced via traditional breeding methods.

Cloning increases existing animal welfare and environmental concerns related to animal agriculture.

In 1996, the birth of the ewe, Dolly, marked the first successful cloning of a mammal from adult cells. At the time of her birth, the researchers who created Dolly acknowledged the inefficiency of the new technology: it took 277 attempts to create this one sheep, and of these, only 29 early embryos developed, and an even smaller number of these developed into live fetuses. In the end, Dolly was the sole surviving clone. She was euthanized in 2003 at just 6 years of age, about half as old as sheep are expected to live, and with health problems more common in older sheep.

Since Dollys creation, the process of cloning has not demonstrated great improvement in efficiency or rates of success. A 2003 review of cloning in cattle found that less than 5% of cloned embryos transferred into surrogate cows survived; a 2016 study showedno noticeable increase in efficiency, with the success rate being about 1%.

Currently, research is focused on cloning for agricultural purposes. Used alone, or in concert with genetic engineering, the objective is to clone the best stock to reproduce whole herds or flocks with desired uniform characteristics of a specific trait, such as fast growth, leaner meat, or higher milk production. Cloning is often pursued to produce animals that grow faster so they can be slaughtered sooner and to raise more animals in a smaller space.

For example, transgenic fish are engineered to grow larger at a faster rate and cows injected with genetically engineered products to increase their productivity. Another example of this is the use of the genetically engineered drug, bovine growth hormone (BGH or BST) to increase milk production in dairy cows. This has also been associated with increased cases of udder disease, spontaneous abortion, lameness, and shortened lifespan. The use of BGH is controversial; many countries (such as Canada, Japan, Australia, and countries in the EU) do not allow it, and many consumers try to avoid it.A rise in transgenic animals used for agriculture will only exacerbate current animal welfare and environmental concerns with existing intensive farming operations.(For more information on farming and animal welfare, visit the MSPCAs Farm Animal Welfare page.)

Much remains unknown about thepotential environmental impacts of widespread cloning of animals. The creation of genetically identical animals leads to concerns about limited agricultural animal gene pools. The effects of creating uniform herds of animals and the resulting loss of biodiversity, have significant implications for the environment and for the ability of cloned herds to withstand diseases. This could make an impact on the entireagriculture industry and human food chain.

These issues became especiallyconcerning when, in 2008, the Federal Drug Administration not only approved the sale of meat from the offspring of cloned animals, but also did not require that it be labeled as such. There have been few published studies that examine the composition of milk, meat, or eggs from cloned animals or their progeny, including the safety of eating those products. The health problems associated with cloned animals, particularly those that appear healthy but have concealed illnesses or problems that appear unexpectedly later in life, could potentially pose risks to the safety of the food products derived from those animals.

Genetically Engineered Pets

Companion animals have also been cloned. The first cloned cat, CC, was created in 2001. CCs creation marked the beginning of the pet cloning industry, in which pet owners could pay to bank DNA from their companion dogs and cats to be cloned in the future. In 2005, the first cloned dog was created; later, the first commercially cloned dog followed at a cost of $50,000. Many consumers assume that cloning will produce a carbon copy of their beloved pet, but this is not the case. Even though the animals are genetically identical, they often do not resemble each other physically or behaviorally.

To date, the pet cloning industry has not been largely successful. However, efforts to make cloning a successful commercial venture are still being put forth.RBio (formerly RNL Bio), a Korean biotechnology company, planned to create a research center that would produce 1,000 cloned dogs annually by 2013. However, RBio, considered a black market cloner, failed to make any significant strides in itscloning endeavors and seems to have been replaced by other companies, such as South Korean-based Sooam Biotech, now the worlds leader in commercial pet cloning. Since 2006, Sooam has cloned over 800 dogs, in addition to other animals, such as cattle and pigs, for breed preservation and medical research.

While South Korean animal cloning expands, the interest in companion animal cloning in the United States continues to remain low. In 2009, the American company BioArts ceased its dog cloning services and ended its partnership with Sooam, stating in a press release that cloning procedures were still underdeveloped and that the cloning market itself was weak and unethical. However, in September 2016, ViaGen Petscreated the first American-born cloned puppy. ViaGen, an American company that has been cloning horses and livestock for over a decade, not only offers cloning services, but also offers to cyropreserve a pets DNA in case owners want to clone their pets in the future.

Of course, ViaGens process is more complicated than it sounds cloning and preservation costs pet owners up to tens of thousands of dollars, and the cloned animals are not necessarily behaviorally identical to their original counterparts. Furthermore, companion animal cloning causes concern not only because of the welfare issues inherent in the cloning process, but also because of its potential to contribute to pet overpopulation problem in the US, as millions of animals in shelters wait for homes.

Cloning and Medical Research

Cloning is also used to produce copies of transgenic animals that have been created to mimic certain human diseases. The transgenic animals are created, then cloned, producing a supply of animals for biomedical testing.

A 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision to permit the patenting of a microorganism that could digest crude oil had a great impact on animal welfare and genetic engineering. Until that time, the U.S. Patent Office had prohibited the patenting of living organisms. However, following the Supreme Court decision, the Patent Office interpreted this ruling to extend to the patenting of all higher life forms, paving the way for a tremendous explosion of corporate investment in genetic engineering research.

In 1988, the first animal patent was issued to Harvard University for the Oncomouse, a transgenic mouse genetically modified to be more prone to develop cancers mimicking human disease. Since then, millions of transgenic mice have been produced. Transgenic rats, rabbits, monkeys, fish, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, cows, horses, cats, dogs, and other animals have also been created.

Both expected and unexpected results occur in the process of inserting new genetic material into an egg cell. Defective offspring can suffer from chromosomal abnormalities that can cause cancer, fatal bleeding disorders, inability to reproduce, early uterine death, lack of ability to nurse, and such diseases as arthritis, diabetes, liver disease, and kidney disease.

The production of transgenic animals is of concern because genetic engineering is often used to create animals with diseases that cause intense suffering. Among the diseases that can be produced in genetically engineered research mice are diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, Huntingtons disease, Alzheimers disease, and a rare but severe neurological condition called Lesch-Nyhansyndromethat causes the sufferer to self-mutilate. Animals carrying the genes for these diseases can suffer for long periods of time, both in the laboratory and while they are kept on the shelf by laboratory animal suppliers.

Another reason for the production of transgenic animals is pharming, in which sheep and goats are modified to produce pharmaceuticals in their milk. In 2009, the first drug produced by genetically engineered animals was approved by the FDA. The drug ATryn, used to prevent fatal blood clots in humans, is derived from goats into which a segment of human DNA has been inserted, causing them to produce an anticoagulant protein in their milk. This marks the first time a drug has been manufactured from a herd of animals created specifically to produce a pharmaceutical.

A company has also manufactured a drug produced in the milk of transgenic rabbits to treat a dangerous tissue swelling caused by a human protein deficiency. Yet another pharmaceutical manufacturer, PharmAnthene, was funded by the US Department of Defense to develop genetically engineered goats whose milk produces proteins used in a drug to treat nerve gas poisoning. The FDA also approved a drug whose primary proteins are also found in the milk of genetically engineered goats, who are kept at a farm in Framingham, Massachusetts. Additionally, a herd of cattle was recently developed that produces milk containing proteins that help to treat human emphysema. These animals are essentially used as pharmaceutical-production machines to manufacture only those substances they were genetically modified to produce; they are not used as part of the normal food supply chain for items such as meat or milk.

The transfer of animal tissues from one species to another raises potentially serious health issues for animals and humans alike.

Some animals are also genetically modified to produce tissues and organs to be used for human transplant purposes (xenotransplantation). Much effort is being focused in this area as the demand for human organs for transplantation far exceeds the supply, with pigs the current focus of this research. While efforts to date have been hampered by a pig protein that can cause organ rejection by the recipients immune system, efforts are underway to develop genetically modified swine with a human protein that would mitigate the chance of organ rejection.

Little is known about the ways in which diseases can be spread from one species to another, raising concerns for both animals and people, and calling into question the safety of using transgenic pigs to supply organs for human transplant purposes. Scientists have identified various viruses common in the heart, spleen, and kidneys of pigs that could infect human cells. In addition, new research is shedding light on particles called prions that, along with viruses and bacteria, may transmit fatal diseases between animals and from animals to humans.

Acknowledging the potential for transmission of viruses from animals to humans, the National Institutes of Health, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,issued a moratorium in 2015 onxenotransplantation until the risks are better understood, ceasing funding until more research has been carried out. With the science of genetic engineering, the possibilities are endless, but so too are the risks and concerns.

Genetic engineering research has broad ethical and moral ramifications with few established societal guidelines.

While biotechnology has been quietly revolutionizing the science for decades, public debate in the United Statesover the moral, ethical, and physical effects of this research has been insufficient. To quote Colorado State University Philosopher Bernard Rollin, We cannot control technology if we do not understand it, and we cannot understand it without a careful discussion of the moral questions to which it gives rise.

Research into non-animal methods of achieving some of the same goals looks promising.

Researchers in the U.S. and elsewhere have found ways togenetically engineer cereal grains to produce human proteins. One example of this, developed in the early 2000s, is a strain of rice that can produce a human protein used to treat cystic fibrosis. Wheat, corn, and barley may also be able to be used in similar ways at dramatically lower financial and ethical costs than genetically engineering animals for this purpose.

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Genetic Engineering | MSPCA-Angell

Genetic Engineering – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Interspecies gene transfer occurs naturally; interspecies hybrids produced by sexual means can lead to new species with genetic components of both pre-existing species. Interspecies hybridization played an important role in the development of domesticated plants.

Interspecies gene transfer occurs naturally; interspecies hybrids produced by sexual means can lead to new species with genetic components of both pre-existing species. Interspecies hybridization played an important role in the development of domesticated plants. Interspecies hybrids can also be produced artificiallly between sexually incompatible species. Cells of both plants and animals can be caused to fuse, producing viable hybrid cell-lines. Cultured hybrid plant cells can regenerate whole plants, so cell fusion allows crosses of sexually incompatible species. Most animal cells cannot regenerate whole individuals; however, the fusion of antibody-forming cells (which are difficult to culture) and "transformed" (cancer-like) cells, gives rise to immortal cell-lines, each producing one particular antibody, so-called monoclonal antibodies. These cell-lines can be used for the commercial production of diagnostic and antidisease antibody preparations. (Fusions involving human cells play a major role in investigations of human heredity and GENETIC DISEASE.)

In nature, the transfer of genes between sexually incompatible species also occurs; for example, genes can be carried between species during viral infection. In its most limited sense, genetic engineering exploits the possibility of such transfers between remotely related species. There are two principle methods. First, genes from one organism can be implanted within another, so that the implanted genes function in the host organism. Alternatively, the new host organism (often a micro-organism) produces quantities of the DNA segment that contains a foreign gene, which can then be analysed and modified in the test tube, before return to the species from which the gene originated. Dr Michael SMITH of the University of British Columbia was the corecipient of the 1993 NOBEL PRIZE in Chemistry for his invention of one of the most direct means to modify gene structure in the test tube, a technique known as in vitro mutagenesis.

The continuing development of modern genetic engineering depends upon a number of major technical advances: cloning, gene cloning and DNA sequencing.

Cloning is the production of a group of genetically identical cells or individuals from a single starting cell; all members of a clone are effectively genetically identical. Most single-celled organisms, many plants and a few multicellular animals form clones as a means of reproduction – "asexual" reproduction. In humans, identical twins are clones, developing after the separation of the earliest cells formed from a single fertilized egg.

Cloning is not strictly genetic engineering, since the genome normally remains unaltered, but it is a practical means to propagate engineered organisms.

In combination with test-tube fertilization and embryo transplants, Alta Genetics of Calgary is a world leader in the use of artificial twinning as a tool in the genetic engineering of cattle. Manipulating plant hormones in plant cell cultures can yield clones consisting of millions of plantlets, which may be packageable to form artificial seed.

Cloning of genetically engineered animals is generally difficult. Clones of frogs have been produced by transplanting identical nuclei from a single embryo, each to a different nucleus-free egg. This technique is not applicable to mammals. However, clones of cells derived from very young mammalian embryos (embryonic stem cells) can be used to reconstitute whole animals and are widely used for genetic engineering of mice. There is no reported instance of cloning of humans by any artificial means. Nonetheless, frequent calls for regulation of human cloning and genetic engineering occur, which stem from the same considerations that lead most commentators to reject eugenics.

Gene cloning is fundamental to genetic engineering. A segment of DNA from any donor organism is joined in the test tube to a second DNA molecule, known as a vector, to form a "recombinant " DNA molecule.

The design of appropriate vectors is an important practical area. Entry of DNA into each kind of cell is best mediated by different vectors. For BACTERIA, vectors are based on DNA molecules that move between cells in nature – bacterial VIRUSES and plasmids. Mammalian vectors usually derive from mammalian viruses. In higher plants, the favoured system is the infectious agent of crown-gall tumours.

Gene cloning in microbes has reached commercial application, notably with the marketing of human INSULIN produced by bacteria. Many similar products are now available, including growth hormones, blood-clotting factors and antiviral interferons. Gene cloning has revolutionized the understanding of genes, cells and diseases particularly of CANCER. It has raised the diagnosis of hereditary disease to high science, has contributed precise diagnostic tools for infectious disease and is fundamental to the use of DNA testing in forensic science.

The ability to clone genes led directly to the discovery of the means to analyse the precise chemical structure of DNA; that is, DNA sequencing. A worldwide co-operative project, the Human Genome Project, is now underway, with the object of cloning and sequencing the totality of human DNA, which contains perhaps 100000 or more genes. To date, at least 80% of the DNA has been cloned and localized roughly within the human chromosome set. It is predicted that the sequencing will be effectively completed in less than 20 years. However, it is clear that the biological meaning of the DNA structure will take decades, if not centuries, to decipher.

To avoid potential hazards deriving from genetic engineering, gene cloning even in bacteria is publicly regulated in Canada and the US by the scientific granting agencies and in some other countries by law. Biological containment, the deliberate hereditary debilitation of host cells and vectors, is required. In using mammals and higher plants, especially strict regulations apply, requiring physical isolation.

A great deal of work remains, both in the development of techniques and in the acquisition of fundamental knowledge needed to apply the techniques appropriately. Nonetheless, genetic engineering promises a world of tailor-made CROP plants and farm animals; cures for hereditary disease by gene replacement therapy; an analytical understanding of cancer and its treatment; and a world in which much of our present-day harsh chemical technology is replaced by milder, organism-dependent, fermentation processing.

In Canada, genetic engineering research is taking place in the laboratories of universities, industries, and federal and provincial research organizations. In the industrial sector, medical applications are being developed, for example at Ayerst Laboratories, Montral, AVENTIS PASTEUR LTD., Toronto, and theINSTITUT ARMAND-FRAPPIER, Laval-des-Rapides, Qubec.

Inco is researching applications for MINING and METALLURGY, and LABATT’S BREWERIESis applying recombinant DNA techniques to brewing technologies. A large number of Canadian companies engage in the research and development of genetically engineered products, particularly in the area of PHARMACEUTICALS and medical diagnostics. As many as half of the federally operated NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL Research Institutes have significant involvement with genetic engineering, including the Biotechnology Research Institute (Montral) and the Plant Biotechnology Institute (Saskatoon), whose mandates are largely in this area. The Veterinary Infectious Disease Organization, based at University of Saskatchewan, is using genetic engineering technology for production of new vaccines for livestock diseases.

See also ANIMAL BREEDING; PLANT BREEDING; HUMAN GENOME PROJECT; BIOTECHNOLOGY; TRANSPLANTATION.

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Genetic Engineering – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Will a Radical Plan to Save New Zealand’s Birds With Genetic Engineering Work? – Gizmodo

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark with a Spotted Kiwi. Image: Getty Images

That the kiwi bird still exists at all is something of a marvel. Its native New Zealand has no endemic land predators, and so the bird evolved to be flightless. Today, its nests on the forest floor are under constant attack by invasive speciesopossums, rats, feral cats and the occasional misbehaving dog.

Despite conservation efforts, there are less than 70,000 kiwi left in all of New Zealand. The country loses about 20 kiwibirds a week.

But a radical new plan imagines modern technology as the key to saving New Zealanders namesake kiwi, and other native birds threatened by invaders: scientists want to use a genetic engineering technique known as a gene drive to stamp out invasive rodents for good.

Gene drives allow scientists to override natural selection during reproduction, in theory allowing for the alteration of the genetic makeup of large populations of animals in a relatively short amount of time. A story today in theMIT Technology Review reports that scientific teams in Australia and Texas have successfully engineered mice to only birth male offspring, a bias meant to drive down mouse populations on an island. Its the first time a gene drive has ever been used in a mammal. The scientists are working with a US conservation group, but the New Zealand government has suggested its open to using genetic engineering to deal with its own invasive problem.

This is not the first time that gene drive has been proposed as a means of conservation. In Hawaii, gene drive have been floated as a solution to the disease-carrying mosquitoes that threaten native bird populations. But there, the idea has been met with fierce resistance from environmentalists and native Hawaiians, and gained little traction.

In New Zealand, the idea may find more support. Last summer, the government announced a bold plan to eradicate all wild predators by 2050. It invested $28 million in a new joint venture company, Predator Free New Zealand Ltd, with the stated goal of achieving a scientific breakthrough capable of removing at least one small mammalian predator from New Zealand entirely by 2025. The countrys Department of Conservation has suggested genetic engineering just might be that breakthrough.

To think we are going to become predator free without poisons distributed from aircraft and/or genetic engineering could be viewed as overly optimistic, New Zealand Department of Conservation scientist Josh Kemp told a New Zealand news site after the announcement.

But while gene drives are highly controversial, inspiring panic about scientists accidentally unleashing a poorly-engineered creature that wreaks ecological havoc, its still unclear whether the technology will actually work in the wild.

Gene drives thwart natural selection by creating a so-called selfish gene that gets passed down to its offspring with more consistency than the rules of inheritance would allow, eventually spreading through an entire populationin theory. But recent research has suggested that wild populations will almost certainly develop resistance to lab-engineered modifications. In late 2015, researchers reported that while a CRISPR gene drive had indeed allowed an infertility mutation in female mosquitoes to be passed on to all offspring, as the mutation increased in frequency over several generations, resistance to the gene drive also emerged.

These things are not going to get too far in terms of eradicating a population, Michael Wade, an evolutionary geneticist at Indiana University Bloomington, recently told Nature.

Of course, should scientists find a way around that hurdle, there are still plenty of obstacles. In the wild, the engineered mice might not be as successful in competing for mates. And while they may succeed in eradicating mice populations on small islands, as the scientists are initially proposing in New Zealand, tackling the rodent population of New Zealands main islands is another thing entirely. Then there is the issue of public opinion. Resistance to the idea of messing with nature has made gene drives an incredibly fraught issue. At a recent meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity in Mexico, activists asked the UN to consider a global moratorium on gene drive. In response, the UN asked that scientists take heed of social, environmental, legal, and ethical considerations to develop the technology responsibly.

The gene drive is a technology that is rapidly advancing. In the past two years, it has gone from being just a theory to a technique successfully tested in yeast, fruit flies, mosquitoes and now mice.

The modified mice engineered by scientists at Texas A&M University were only born in the past two months, according to the Technology Review. It will take several generations of breeding to determine whether the male-only trait is successfully passed on to future generations, as hoped. As of January, the second team at University of Adelaide was still working on breeding its first generation of engineered mice.

If they are successful, those mice may eventually be released on sea islands where mice have been known to prey on albatross chicks. And if it all goes well, one day, those engineered pests may save the kiwi bird, too.

[MIT Technology Review]

Original post:

Will a Radical Plan to Save New Zealand’s Birds With Genetic Engineering Work? – Gizmodo


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