...1020...2829303132...405060...


A Blueprint for Genetically Engineering a Super Coral – Smithsonian

In a healthy reef, coral symbionts make food for the coral animal.

A coral reef takes thousands of years to build, yet can vanish in an instant.

The culprit is usuallycoral bleaching, a disease exacerbated by warming watersthat today threatens reefs around the globe. The worst recorded bleaching eventstruck the South Pacific between 2014 and 2016, when rising ocean temperatures followed by a sudden influx of warm El Nio waters traumatizedthe Great Barrier Reef.In just one seasonbleaching decimated nearly a quarter of thevast ecosystem, which once sprawled nearly 150,000 square miles through the Coral Sea.

As awful as it was, that bleaching event was a wake-up call, says Rachel Levin, a molecular biologist who recently proposed a bold technique to save these key ecosystems. Her idea, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, is simple:Rather than finding healthy symbiontsto repopulate bleached coral in nature, engineer them in the lab instead.Given that this would requiretampering with nature in a significant way, the proposal is likely to stir controversial waters.

But Levin argues that with time running out for reefs worldwide, the potential value could wellbe worth the risk.

Levin studied cancer pharmacology as an undergraduate, but became fascinated by the threats facing aquatic life while dabbling in marine science courses. She was struck by the fact that, unlike in human disease research, there were far fewer researchers fighting to restore ocean health. After she graduated, she moved from California to Sydney, Australia to pursue a Ph.D. at the Center for Marine Bio-Innovation in the University of New South Wales, with the hope of applying her expertise in human disease research to corals.

In medicine, it often takes the threat of a serious disease for researchers to try a new and controversial treatment (i.e. merging two womens healthy eggs with one mans sperm to make a three-parent baby).The same holds in environmental scienceto an extent.Like a terrible disease [in] humans, when people realize how dire the situation is becoming researchers start trying to propose much more, Levin says.When it comes to saving the environment, however, there are fewer advocates willing to implementrisky, groundbreaking techniques.

When it comes to reefscrucial marine regions that harbor an astonishing amount of diversity as well as protect land massesfrom storm surges, floods and erosionthat hesitation could be fatal.

Coral bleachingis often presented as the death of coral, which is a little misleading. Actually, its the breakdown of the symbiotic union that enables a coral to thrive. The coral animal itself is like a building developer who constructs the scaffolding of a high rise apartment complex. The developer rents out each of the billions of rooms to single-celled, photosynthetic microbes called Symbiodinium.

But in this case, in exchange for a safe place to live, Symbiodinium makes food for the coral using photosynthesis. A bleached coral, by contrast, is like a deserted building. With no tenants to make their meals, the coral eventually dies.

Though bleaching can be deadly, its actually a clever evolutionary strategy of the coral. The Symbiodinium are expected to uphold their end of the bargain. But when the water gets too warm, they stop photosynthesizing. When that food goes scarce, the coral sends an eviction notice. Its like having a bad tenantyoure going to get rid of what you have and see if you can find better, Levin says.

But as the oceans continue to warm, its harder and harder to find good tenants. That means evictions can be risky. In a warming ocean, the coral animal might die before it can find any better rentersa scenario that has decimated reef ecosystems around the planet.

Levin wanted to solve this problem,by creatinga straightforward recipe for building a super-symbiont that could repopulate bleached corals and help them to persist through climate changeessentially, the perfect tenants. But she had to start small. At the time, there were so many holes and gaps that prevented us from going forward, she says. All I wanted to do was show that we could genetically engineer [Symbiodinium].

Even that would prove to be a tall order. The first challenge was that, despite being a single-celled organism, Symbiodinium has an unwieldy genome. Usually symbiotic organisms have streamlined genomes, since they rely on their hosts for most of their needs. Yet while other species have genomes of around 2 million base pairs, Symbiodiniums genome is 3 orders of magnitude larger.

Theyre humongous, Levin says. In fact, the entire human genome is only slightly less than 3 times as big as Symbiodiniums.

Even after advances in DNA sequencing made deciphering these genomes possible, scientists still had no idea what 80 percent of the genes were for. We needed to backtrack and piece together which gene was doing what in this organism, Levin says. A member of a group of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates, Symbiodinium are incredibly diverse. Levin turned her attention to two key Symbiodinium strains she could grow in her lab.

The first strain, like most Symbiodinium, was vulnerable to the high temperatures that cause coral bleaching. Turn up the heat dial a few notches, and this critter was toast. But the other strain, which had been isolated from the rare corals that live in the warmest environments,seemed to be impervious to heat. If she could figure out how these two strains wielded their genes during bleaching conditions, then she might find the genetic keys to engineering a new super-strain.

When Levin turned up the heat, she saw that the hardySymbiodinium escalated its production of antioxidants and heat shock proteins, which help repair cellular damage caused by heat. Unsurprisingly, the normal Symbiodinium didnt. Levin then turned her attention to figuring out a way to insert more copies of these crucial heat tolerating genes into the weaker Symbiodinium, thereby creating a strain adapted to live with corals from temperate regionsbut with the tools to survive warming oceans.

Getting new DNA into a dinoflagellate cell is no easy task. While tiny, these cells are protected by armored plates, two cell membranes, and a cell wall. You can get through if you push hard enough, Levin says. But then again, you might end up killing the cells. So Levin solicited help from an unlikely collaborator: a virus. After all, viruses have evolved to be able to put their genes into their hosts genomethats how they survive and reproduce, she says.

Levin isolated a virus that infected Symbiodinium, and molecularly altered it it so that it no longer killed the cells. Instead, she engineered it to be a benign delivery system for those heat tolerating genes. In her paper, Levin argues that the viruss payload could use CRISPR, the breakthrough gene editing technique that relies on a natural process used by bacteria, to cut and paste those extra genes into a region of the Symbiodiniums genome where they would be highly expressed.

It sounds straightforward enough. But messing with a living ecosystem is never simple, says says Dustin Kemp, professor of biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who studies the ecological impacts of climate change on coral reefs. Im very much in favor of these solutions to conserve and genetically help, says Kemp. But rebuilding reefs that have taken thousands of years to form is going to be a very daunting task.

Considering the staggering diversity of the Symbiodinium strains that live within just one coral species, even if there was a robust system for genetic modification, Kemp wonders if it would ever be possible to engineer enough different super-Symbiodinium to restore that diversity. If you clear cut an old growth forest and then go out and plant a few pine trees, is that really saving or rebuilding the forest? asks Kemp, who was not involved with the study.

But Kemp agrees that reefs are dying at an alarming rate, too fast for the natural evolution of Symbiodinium to keep up. If corals were rapidly evolving to handle [warming waters], youd think we would have seen it by now, he says.

Thomas Mock, a marine microbiologist at the University of East Anglia in the UKand a pioneer in genetically modifying phytoplankton, also points out that dinoflagellate biology is still largely enshrouded in mystery. To me this is messing around, he says. But this is how it starts usually. Provocative argument is always goodits very very challenging, but lets get started somewhere and see what we can achieve. Recently, CSIRO, the Australian governments science division, has announced that it will fund laboratories to continue researching genetic modifications in coral symbionts.

When it comes to human healthfor instance, protecting humans from devastating diseases like malaria or Zikascientists have been willing to try more drastic techniques, such as releasing mosquitoes genetically programmed to pass on lethal genes. The genetic modifications needed to save corals, Levin argues, would not be nearly as extreme. She adds that much more controlled lab testing is required before genetically modified Symbiodinium could be released into the environment to repopulate dying corals reefs.

When were talking genetically engineered, were not significantly altering these species, she says. Were not making hugely mutant things. All were trying to do is give them an extra copy of a gene they already have to help them out … were not trying to be crazy scientists.

Read the rest here:

A Blueprint for Genetically Engineering a Super Coral – Smithsonian

Genetic Engineering with ‘Strict Guidelines?’ Ha! – National Review

Human genetic engineering is moving forward exponentially and we are still not having any meaningful societal, regulatory, or legislative conversations about whether, how, and to what extent we should permit the human genome to be altered in ways that flow down the generations.

But dont worry. The scientists assure us, when that can be done, there will (somehow) beSTRICT OVERSIGHT From the AP story:

And lots more research is needed to tell if its really safe, added Britains Lovell-Badge. He and Kahn were part of a National Academy of Sciences report earlier this year that said if germline editing ever were allowed, it should be only for serious diseases with no good alternatives and done with strict oversight.

Please!No more! When I laugh this hard it makes mystomach hurt.

Heres the problem: Strict guidelines rarely are strict and the almost never permanently protect. Theyare ignored, unenforced, or stretched over time until they, essentially, cease to exist.

Thats awful with actions such as euthanasia. But wecant let that kind of pretense rule the day withtechnologies that could prove to be among themost powerful and potentially destructive inventions in human history. Indeed, other than nuclear weapons, I cant think of a technology with more destructive potential.

Strict oversight will have to include legal limitations and clear boundaries, enforced bystiff criminalpenalties, civil remedies, and international protocols.

They wont be easy to craft and it will take significant time to work through all of the scientific and ethical conundrums.

But we havent made a beginning. If we wait until what may be able to be done actually can be done, it will be too late.

Wheres the leadership? All we have now is drift.

Link:

Genetic Engineering with ‘Strict Guidelines?’ Ha! – National Review

Don’t fear the rise of superbabies. Worry about who will own genetic engineering technology. – Chicago Tribune

Seen any clone armies in your backyard lately? Probably not. This might surprise you if you are old enough to remember the ethical panic that greeted the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, in Scotland 21 years ago.

The cloned creature set off a crazy overreaction, with fears of clone armies, re-creating the dead, and a host of other horrors, monsters, abuses and terrors none of which has come to pass. That is why it is so important, amid all the moral hand-wringing about what could happen as human genetic engineering emerges, to keep our ethical eye on the right ball. Freaking out over impending superbabies and mutant humans with the powers of comic book characters is not what is needed.

An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University, has used genetic engineering on human sperm and a pre-embryo. The group is doing basic research to figure out if new forms of genetic engineering might be able to prevent or repair terrible hereditary diseases.

How close are they to making freakish superpeople using their technology? About as close as we are to traveling intergalactically using current rocket technology.

So what should we be worrying about as this rudimentary but promising technique tries to get off the launch pad?

First and foremost, oversight of what is going on. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has banned federal funding for genetic engineering of sperm, eggs, pre-embryos or embryos. That means everything goes on in the private or philanthropic world here or overseas, without much guidance. We need clear rules with teeth to keep anyone from trying to go too fast or deciding to try to cure anything in an embryo intended to become an actual human being without rock-solid safety data.

Second, we need to determine who should own the techniques for genetic engineering. Important patent fights are underway among the technology’s inventors. That means people smell lots of money. And that means it is time to talk about who gets to own what and charge what, lest we reinvent the world of the $250,000 drug in this area of medicine.

Finally, human genetic engineering needs to be monitored closely: all experiments registered, all data reported on a public database and all outcomes good and bad made available to all scientists and anyone else tracking this area of research. Secrecy is the worst enemy that human genetic engineering could possibly have.

Let your great-great-grandkids fret about whether they want to try to make a perfect baby. Today we need to worry about who will own genetic engineering technology, how we can oversee what is being done with it and how safe it needs to be before it is used to try to prevent or fix a disease.

That is plenty to worry about.

Arthur L. Caplan is head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine.

See the article here:

Don’t fear the rise of superbabies. Worry about who will own genetic engineering technology. – Chicago Tribune

When genetic engineering is the environmentally friendly choice – Ensia

July 27, 2017 Which is more disruptive to a plant: genetic engineering or conventional breeding?

It often surprises people to learn that GE commonly causes less disruption to plants than conventional techniques of breeding. But equally profound is the realization that the latest GE techniques, coupled with a rapidly expanding ability to analyze massive amounts of genetic material, allow us to make super-modest changes in crop plant genes that will enable farmers to produce more food with fewer adverse environmental impacts. Such super-modest changes are possible with CRISPR-based genome editing, a powerful set of new genetic tools that is leading a revolution in biology.

My interest in GE crops stems from my desire to provide more effective and sustainable plant disease control for farmers worldwide. Diseases often destroy 10 to 15 percent of potential crop production, resulting in global losses of billions of dollars annually. The risk of disease-related losses provides an incentive to farmers to use disease-control products such as pesticides. One of my strongest areas of expertise is in the use of pesticides for disease control. Pesticides certainly can be useful in farming systems worldwide, but they have significant downsides from a sustainability perspective. Used improperly, they can contaminate foods. They can pose a risk to farm workers. And they must be manufactured, shipped and applied all processes with a measurable environmental footprint. Therefore, I am always seeking to reduce pesticide use by offering farmers more sustainable approaches to disease management.

What follows are examples of how minimal GE changes can be applied to make farming more environmentally friendly by protecting crops from disease. They represent just a small sampling of the broad landscape of opportunities for enhancing food security and agricultural sustainability that innovations in molecular biology offer today.

Genetically altering crops the way these examples demonstrate creates no cause for concern for plants or people. Mutations occur naturally every time a plant makes a seed; in fact, they are the very foundation of evolution. All of the food we eat has all kinds of mutations, and eating plants with mutations does not cause mutations in us.

Knocking Out Susceptibility

A striking example of how a tiny genetic change can make a big difference to plant health is the strategy of knocking out a plant gene that microorganisms can benefit from. Invading microorganisms sometimes hijack certain plant molecules to help themselves infect the plant. A gene that produces such a plant molecule is known as a susceptibility gene.

We can use CRISPR-based genome editing to create a targeted mutation in a susceptibility gene. A change of as little as a single nucleotide in the plants genetic material the smallest genetic change possible can confer disease resistance in a way that is absolutely indistinguishable from natural mutations that can happen spontaneously. Yet if the target gene and mutation site are carefully selected, a one-nucleotide mutation may be enough to achieve an important outcome.

There is a substantial body of research showing proof-of-concept that a knockout of a susceptibility gene can increase resistance in plants to a very wide variety of disease-causing microorganisms. An example that caught my attention pertained to powdery mildew of wheat, because fungicides (pesticides that control fungi) are commonly used against this disease. While this particular genetic knockout is not yet commercialized, I personally would rather eat wheat products from varieties that control disease through genetics than from crops treated with fungicides.

The Power of Viral Snippets

Plant viruses are often difficult to control in susceptible crop varieties. Conventional breeding can help make plants resistant to viruses, but sometimes it is not successful.

Early approaches to engineering virus resistance in plants involved inserting a gene from the virus into the plants genetic material. For example, plant-infecting viruses are surrounded by a protective layer of protein, called the coat protein. The gene for the coat protein of a virus called papaya ring spot virus was inserted into papaya. Through a process called RNAi, this empowers the plant to inactivate the virus when it invades. GE papaya has been a spectacular success, in large part saving the Hawaiian papaya industry.

Aerial view of a field trial showing virus-resistant papaya growing well while the surrounding susceptible papaya is severely damaged by the virus. Reproduced with permission from Gonsalves, D., et al. 2004. Transgenic virus-resistant papaya: From hope to reality in controlling papaya ringspot virus in Hawaii. APSnet Features. Online. DOI: 10.1094/APSnetFeature-2004-0704

Through time, researchers discovered that even just a very small fragment from one viral gene can stimulate RNAi-based resistance if precisely placed within a specific location in the plants DNA. Even better, they found we can stack resistance genes engineered with extremely modest changes in order to create a plant highly resistant to multiple viruses. This is important because, in the field, crops are often exposed to infection by several viruses.

Does eating this tiny bit of a viral gene sequence concern me? Absolutely not, for many reasons, including:

Tweaking Sentry Molecules

Microorganisms can often overcome plants biochemical defenses by producing molecules called effectors that interfere with those defenses. Plants respond by evolving proteins to recognize and disable these effector molecules. These recognition proteins are called R proteins (R standing for resistance). Their job is to recognize the invading effector molecule and trigger additional defenses. A third interesting approach, then, to help plants resist an invading microorganism is to engineer an R protein so that it recognizes effector molecules other than the one it evolved to detect. We can then use CRISPR to supply a plant with the very small amount of DNA needed to empower it to make this protein.

This approach, like susceptibility knockouts, is quite feasible, based on published research. Commercial implementation will require some willing private- or public-sector entity to do the development work and to face the very substantial and costly challenges of the regulatory process.

Engineered for Sustainability

The three examples here show that extremely modest engineered changes in plant genetics can result in very important benefits. All three examples involve engineered changes that trigger the natural defenses of the plant. No novel defense mechanisms were introduced in these research projects, a fact that may appeal to some consumers. The wise use of the advanced GE methods illustrated here, as well as others described elsewhere, has the potential to increase the sustainability of our food production systems, particularly given the well-established safety of GE crops and their products for consumption.

Link:
When genetic engineering is the environmentally friendly choice – Ensia

We Need to Talk About Genetic Engineering | commentary – Commentary Magazine

What began as a broad-based and occasionally sympathetic conduit for anti-Trump activists has evolved into a platform for the maladjusted to receive unhealthy levels of public scrutiny. The cycle has become a depressingly familiar. A relatively obscure member of the political class achieves viral notoriety and becomes a figure of cult-like popularity with some uncompromising display of opposition toward the president only to humiliate themselves and their followers in short order.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters is not the first to be feted by liberals as the embodiment of noble opposition to authoritarianism. In May, the Center for American Progress blog dubbed her the patron saint of resistance politics. Left-leaning viral-politics websites now routinely praise Waters as a Trump-bashing resistance leader, the Democratic rock star of 2017, and an all-around badass for her unflagging commitment to trashing the president as a crooked and racist liar, the Daily Beast observed. Waters was even honored by an audience of tweens and entertainers at this years MTV Movie Awards. Even a modestly curious review of Waters record would have led more cautious political actors to keep their distance. Time bombs have a habit of going off.

Zero hour arrived late Friday evening when Waters broke the news of a forthcoming putsch. Mike Pence is somewhere planning an inauguration, the congresswoman from California wrote. Priebus and Spicer will lead the transition. That sounds crazy, but its a familiar kind of crazy.

Anyone who has followed the congresswomans career knows she has a history of making inflammatory assertions for the benefit of her audience. It only takes a cursory google search to discover that, in her decade in politics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has named her the most corrupt member of Congress four times and the misconduct of her chief of staff ensnared her in a House Ethics Committee probe. The Resistance is willing to overlook a plethora of flaws and misdeeds as long as their prior assumptions are validated.

This is not the first time its own heroes have undercut The Resistance.

National Reviews Charles C. W. Cooke recently demonstrated why Louise Mensch, formerly a prominent poster child for The Resistance, has a habit of seeing Russians behind every darkened corner. They are responsible for riots in Missouri, Democratic losses at the polls, and Anthony Weiners libido. In Menschs imagination, a secret Republican Guard is mere moments away from dispatching this administration amid some species of constitutional coup. Cooke also noted that Mensch was elevated to unearned status as a celebrity of the Resistance by the anti-Trump commentary class desperate for what she was selling.

Menschs star has faded, but not before she managed to embarrass those who invested confidence in her sources. Those who embraced her should have been more cautious in the process. Menschs British compatriots long ago caught onto her habit of lashing out at phantoms. A prudent political class would have given her a wide berth.

25-year-old Teen Vogue columnist Lauren Duca became a sensation last December when her article accusing the president of gas lighting the nation went viral. She was festooned with praise for her work from forlorn Democratsculminating in a letter of praise from Hillary Clintonand soon found herself the subject of fawning New York Times profiles and delivering college commencement addresses without any apparent effort to vet her work.

Duca, too, became a source of bias-confirming misinformation for the left. Cute pic of Trump getting tired of winning, she tweeted with the image of an airplane going down in flames. The tweet was quickly deleted, but not before it provided a means by which the pro-Trump right could credibly undermine her integrity.

Attributable only to a plague mass hysteria, liberal Trump opponents collectively determined last December that a paranoid, 127-tweet rant was a work of unpatrolled genius. That diatribe was the work of Eric Garland, a self-described D.C. technocrat based in Missouri whos now infamous game theory polemic was an example of what he calls his spastic historical and political narratives.

Journalists and political activists who surveyed his work declared it not just compelling anti-Trump prose but near historic in its brilliance. It was anything but. Laced with profanity, exaggerated misspellings to caricature his political opponents, and an offensively indiscreet application of the caps lock, Garland threaded 9/11, Al Gore, Hurricane Katrina, Edward Snowden, and Fox News to tell the tale of how Americas sovereignty was repeatedly violated. The Resistance abandoned its better judgment.

It wasnt long before Garland had humiliated anyone who ever treated him as a credible political observer. Rupert Murdoch is a threat to Western Civilization and a Russian operative, he wrote. I WONT BE THE FIRST GARLAND OF MY LINE TO SPILL BLOOD FOR AMERICA AND THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY AND NEVER THE LAST, YOU F***ERS. This kind of hyperventilating excess came as no surprise to anyone who didnt read his manic thread through tears as they struggled to come to terms with the age of Trump.

If Democrats hope to strike a favorable contrast with a lackadaisical White House, theyre not well served by surrounding themselves with reckless people. Too often, the faces of The Resistance wither in the spotlight. A serious movement attracts serious opposition. A frivolous, self-gratifying movement, well, doesnt.

View original post here:

We Need to Talk About Genetic Engineering | commentary – Commentary Magazine

Understanding the basics of Genetically-Modified Organisms – NIGERIAN TRIBUNE (press release) (blog)

Genetic modification, also known as genetic engineering, is a technologically advanced way to select desirable traits in crops. While selective breeding has existed for thousands of years, modern biotechnology is more efficient and effective because seed developers are able to directly modify the genome of the crop. Plants that are genetically engineered (GE) have been selectively bred and enhanced with genes to withstand common problems that confront farmers. These include strains of wheat that are more resistant to drought, maize that can survive pesticides, and cassava that is biofortified with additional nutrients. In addition to resistance-based attributes and biofortification, some GM crops can produce higher yields from the same planted area. GM crops have the potential to strengthen farming and food security by granting more certainty against the unpredictable factors of nature. These resistances and higher yields hold great promise for the developing world and for global food security. Yet, controversy remains over access to this biotechnology, corporation patents on certain plant strains, and claims regarding the safety and quality of GM foods as compared to non-GM foods.

Why are seed developers genetically modified organisms? Genetic modification can protect crops against threats to strong yields, such as diseases, drought, pests, and herbicides used to control weeds, and therefore improve the efficiency of food production. While farmers have been selectively breeding plants for centuries, genetic engineering allows new traits to be developed much more quickly. Utilising traditional selective breeding can take multiple growing seasons to develop and test a new variety. Genetic engineering is more precise than conventional hybridisation and therefore is less likely to produce unexpected results. For example, mutagenic breeding is not considered genetic engineering, yet it exposes plant material to radiation or chemicals to create varieties with new traits.

GMOs seem to be in the news a lot lately. Is the GMO process new? GMOs are in the news a lot right now, but not because they are new. They have actually been in our food supply for nearly 20 years. Farmers have been using hybridisation and mutation breeding of crops to improve their resistance to pests or environmental conditions for decades. But scientists began to sufficiently understand the genetic makeup of certain plants to be able to modify genes that would strengthen the plants ability to resist new pests or diseases and thus improve yields so that farmers began planting GMO crops in the mid-1990s.

What are the effects of genetic modification on the environment? In order to feed a world population that is expected to top 9 billion by 2050 and to do so in ways that do not harm the environment, farmers will need to roughly double current production levels on about the same amount of land. Genetically modified crops are more efficient and therefore use less agricultural inputs to produce the same amount of food. From 1996-2012, without GM crops the world would have needed 123 million more hectares of land for equal crop production. GM technology reduced pesticide use by 8.9 per cent in the period from 1996- 2011. Because genetically modified crops require less ploughing and chemical usage, GM technology can reduce fossil fuel and CO2 emissions. Genetic engineering can therefore help to ameliorate the effects of agriculture on the environment. Farming accounted for 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 and 70 percent of freshwater use. Additionally, scientists are developing GM crops that are resistant to flood, drought, and cold, which improves agricultural resistance to climate change. GM crops also allow for greater use of no-till cultivation, which helps with carbon sequestration, soil erosion prevention, and better soil fertility.

How are GM crops related to nutrition and food security? Genetic modification can improve the nutritional profile of food and therefore serves as a key element in reducing global rates of malnutrition. For instance, golden rice is enhanced with beta-carotene and therefore provides a dose of vitamin A, a nutrient lacking in many diets around the world. Vitamin A deficiency leads to the death of nearly 700,000 children each year, so golden rice is a crucial initiative in reducing malnutrition. Additionally, in India, using BT corn led to the consumption of more nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, and animal products because of increased incomes. Another study in India showed that each hectare of BT cotton increased caloric intake by 74 calories per person per day and that 7.93 per cent of households using BT cotton were food insecure as opposed to 19.94 per cent of those using non-GM cotton.

What is the scientific consensus of the impact of GM foods on humans? From 2003-13, 1,783 studies showed no human or environmental dangers from genetically engineered crops, with a study concluding that the scientific research conducted thus far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops. The European Commission released a meta study of 50 research projects and found that the use of biotechnology and of GE plants per se does not imply higher risks than classical breeding methods or production technologies. One study in 2013 suggested that consumption of GM foods affected the health of lab animals, but the studys publication was subsequently pulled and its findings undermined because of digressions from standard scientific research principles.

Why use genetic engineering if other methods are just as effective at boosting productivity? Genetic engineering research has focused on overcoming problems that affect productivity, such as disease, weeds, and pests. When crops can avoid disease, weeds, and pests, crop yield is enhanced. Genetic modification is only one of the tools that farmers can use to boost productivity, and it does not eliminate the need for other advances such as hybridization, agricultural chemicals, and farm machinery. Rather, genetic modification is a technologically advanced application of biotechnology that works in conjunction with other modern agricultural practices. Dr Rose Maxwell Gidado is the Country Coordinator for Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB).

Many dont know honey exportation is a goldmine NAQS boss

Prices of grains will fall soon

Read the original post:

Understanding the basics of Genetically-Modified Organisms – NIGERIAN TRIBUNE (press release) (blog)

Can genetic modification turn annual crops into perennials? – Genetic Literacy Project

The last several decades have witnessed a remarkable increase in crop yields doubling major grain crops since the 1950s. But a significant part of the world still suffers from malnutrition, and these gains in grains and other crops probably wont be enough to feed a growing global population.

These facts have put farmers and agricultural scientists on a quest to squeeze more yield from plants (and livestock), and how to make these yield increases more sustainable. The best land is already taken and could be altered by climate changes, so new crops may have to be grown in less hospitable locations, and the soils and nutrition in existing lands need to be better preserved.

Several methods are being used to boost yields with less fertilizer or pesticides, including traditional combination techniques, marker-assisted breeding, and, of course, trans- and cis-genic modifications.

One way to get more food from a plant is through another genetic switch. It may be possible to genetically, either through hybridization, mutagenesis, or genetic engineering to alter a plant so that it transforms from an annual (one you have to replant every year) to a perennial (which you plant once and can thrive for many years).

This video from Washington State University discusses some advantages of perennial crops:

Most staples, like corn, wheat, sorghum and other grains are annuals. About 75 percent of US and 69 percent of global croplands are cereal, oilseed and legumes, and all of those are annuals, said Jerry Glover, plant geneticist at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and John Reganold, a geneticist at Washington State University. This means, they wrote:

They must be replanted each year from seed, require large amounts of expensive fertilizers and pesticides, poorly protect soil and water, and provide little habitat for wildlife. Their production emits significant greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change that can in turn have adverse effects on agricultural productivity.

Perennials, meanwhile, have longer growing seasons and more extensive roots, making them more productive, and more efficient at capturing nutrients and water from the soil. Replanting isnt necessary, reducing pesticide and fertilizer use, and reducing the need to use tractors and other mechanical planters in fields. Erosion also can be reduced. Its been estimated that annual grains can lose five times more water and 35 times more nitrate than perennial grains. All plants at one time were perennials, and breeders and farmers concentrated on breeding new annuals that could meet a farmers (and consumers) needs.

Now, the table has turned. Genetics may make the annual-to-perennial transformation easier. The switch to perennials is not a new avenue of research, but its been a rocky road. Scientists in the former USSR and the US tried to create perennial wheat in the 1960s, but the offspring plants were sterile and didnt deliver on desired traits. Since then, scientists worldwide have looked at deriving perennials from annual and perennial parents using molecular markers tied to desirable traits (and the genes responsible for them). This technique, and knowing the genotypes of more and more plants, has made it possible to combine desirable genes with traditional and genetic engineering methods to find these desirable perennial plants.

Glover has pointed out that molecular markers tied to desirable traits (higher yields, disease resistance, etc.) can allow for faster breeding by determining the sources of plant variation, and that plant genomics has facilitated the combination of genes without having to field test over years at a time. Genetic modifications can also help spur this along.

Andrew Paterson, head of the plant genome laboratory at the University of Georgia, has studied for years the development of perennial sorghum one of the top five cerealon the planet. Sorghums drought resistance has made it useful as a grain and biomass source in degraded soil, and a perennial version (which has happened spontaneously twice) could reduce drought losses even to other crops. Patersons genetic analysis of wild perennials and cultivated annuals has shown the genes involved in perennial ism and offered DNA markers for more precise breeding.

Techniques like CRISPR/Cas9, which can precisely edit, insert or delete genes at specific locations, are being studied for their possible role in transforming perennials, but a few challenges remain. Chung-Jui Tsai at the University of Georgia, recently showed that CRISPR could be used to alter genes in existing perennials (like fruit and nut trees, for example), once some hurdles like frequent polymorphisms and other variations could be overcome.

Still others are not so optimistic about using genetic modification to enact the perennial-annual switch. First, the whole field would require much more research funding than currently exists, Glover warns. Then, as Paterson told Brooke Borel in her article in Popular Science, perennial traits are much more complicated than those currently addressed by genetic engineering. We dont really know all of the genes involved, not yet:

We dont actually have any of the genes in hand. We know where they are in the genome and we are working on their locations more and more finely, but there arent any of these genes that we can yet point to the specific gene among the 30,000 or so in sorghum. Even if they did know the exact genes, most GMOs that are currently available only insert a single new trait rather than information from multiple genes. The technology isnt yet able to handle something so complicated as perennialism.

Andrew Porterfieldis a writer, editor and communications consultant for academic institutions, companies and non-profits in the life sciences. He is based in Camarillo, California. Follow@AMPorterfieldon Twitter.

Go here to read the rest:

Can genetic modification turn annual crops into perennials? – Genetic Literacy Project

Genetic engineering creates an unnaturally blue flower – Engadget

The approach is generic enough that you could theoretically apply it to other flowering plants. Blue roses, anyone? There are broader possibilities, too. While the exact techniques clearly won’t translate to other lifeforms, this might hint at what’s required to produce blue eyes or feathers. And these color changes would be useful for more than just cosmetics. Pollinating insects tend to prefer blue, so this could help spread plant life that has trouble competing in a given habitat.

Just don’t count on picking up a blue bouquet. You need a permit to sell any genetically modified organism in the US, and there’s a real concern that these gene-modified flowers might spread and create havoc in local ecosystems. The research team hopes to make tweaked chrysanthemums that don’t breed, but that also means you’re unlikely to see them widely distributed even if they do move beyond the lab. Any public availability would likely hinge on a careful understanding of the flowers’ long-term impact.

See original here:

Genetic engineering creates an unnaturally blue flower – Engadget

‘True blue’ chrysanthemum flowers produced with genetic … – Nature – Nature.com

Naonobu Noda/NARO

Giving chrysanthemums the blues was easier than researchers thought it would be.

Roses are red, but science could someday turn them blue. Thats one of the possible future applications of a technique researchers have used to genetically engineer blue chrysanthemums for the first time.

Chyrsanthemums come in an array of colours, including pink, yellow and red. But all it took to engineer the truly blue hue and not a violet or bluish colour was tinkering with two genes, scientists report in a study published on 26 July in Science Advances1. The team says that the approach could be applied to other commercially important flowers, including carnations and lilies.

Consumers love novelty, says Nick Albert, a plant biologist at the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research in Palmerston North, New Zealand. And people actively seek out plants with blue flowers to fill their gardens.

Plenty of flowers are bluish, but its rare to find true blue in nature, says Naonobu Noda, a plant researcher at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization near Tsukuba, Japan, and lead study author. Scientists, including Noda, have tried to artificially produce blue blooms for years: efforts that have often produced violet or bluish hues in flowers such as roses and carnations. Part of the problem is that naturally blue blossoming plants arent closely related enough to commercially important flowers for traditional methods including selective breeding to work.

Most truly blue blossoms overexpress genes that trigger the production of pigments called delphinidin-based anthocyanins. The trick to getting blue flowers in species that arent naturally that colour is inserting the right combination of genes into their genomes. Noda came close in a 2013 study2 when he and his colleagues found that adding a gene from a naturally blue Canterbury bells flower (Campanula medium) into the DNA of chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium) produced a violet-hued bloom.

Noda says he and his team expected that they would need to manipulate many more genes to get the blue chrysanthemum they produced in their latest study. But to their surprise, adding only one more borrowed gene from the naturally blue butterfly pea plant (Clitoria ternatea) was enough.

Anthocyanins can turn petals red, violet or blue, depending on the pigments structure. Noda and his colleagues found that genes from the Canterbury bells and butterfly pea altered the molecular structure of the anthocyanin in the chrysanthemum. When the modified pigments interacted with compounds called flavone glucosides, the resulting chrysanthemum flowers were blue. The team tested the wavelengths given off by their blossoms in several ways to ensure that the flowers were truly blue.

The quest for blue blooms wouldn’t only be applicable to the commercial flower market. Studying how these pigments work could also lead to the sustainable manufacture of artificial pigments, says Silvia Vignolini, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who has studied the molecular structure of the intensely blue marble berry.

Regardless, producing truly blue flowers is a great achievement and demonstrates that the underlying chemistry required to achieve ‘blue’ is complex and remains to be fully understood, says Albert.

Read the rest here:

‘True blue’ chrysanthemum flowers produced with genetic … – Nature – Nature.com

When genetic engineering is the environmentally friendly choice – Ensia

July 27, 2017 Which is more disruptive to a plant: genetic engineering or conventional breeding?

It often surprises people to learn that GE commonly causes less disruption to plants than conventional techniques of breeding. But equally profound is the realization that the latest GE techniques, coupled with a rapidly expanding ability to analyze massive amounts of genetic material, allow us to make super-modest changes in crop plant genes that will enable farmers to produce more food with fewer adverse environmental impacts. Such super-modest changes are possible with CRISPR-based genome editing, a powerful set of new genetic tools that is leading a revolution in biology.

My interest in GE crops stems from my desire to provide more effective and sustainable plant disease control for farmers worldwide. Diseases often destroy 10 to 15 percent of potential crop production, resulting in global losses of billions of dollars annually. The risk of disease-related losses provides an incentive to farmers to use disease-control products such as pesticides. One of my strongest areas of expertise is in the use of pesticides for disease control. Pesticides certainly can be useful in farming systems worldwide, but they have significant downsides from a sustainability perspective. Used improperly, they can contaminate foods. They can pose a risk to farm workers. And they must be manufactured, shipped and applied all processes with a measurable environmental footprint. Therefore, I am always seeking to reduce pesticide use by offering farmers more sustainable approaches to disease management.

What follows are examples of how minimal GE changes can be applied to make farming more environmentally friendly by protecting crops from disease. They represent just a small sampling of the broad landscape of opportunities for enhancing food security and agricultural sustainability that innovations in molecular biology offer today.

Genetically altering crops the way these examples demonstrate creates no cause for concern for plants or people. Mutations occur naturally every time a plant makes a seed; in fact, they are the very foundation of evolution. All of the food we eat has all kinds of mutations, and eating plants with mutations does not cause mutations in us.

Knocking Out Susceptibility

A striking example of how a tiny genetic change can make a big difference to plant health is the strategy of knocking out a plant gene that microorganisms can benefit from. Invading microorganisms sometimes hijack certain plant molecules to help themselves infect the plant. A gene that produces such a plant molecule is known as a susceptibility gene.

We can use CRISPR-based genome editing to create a targeted mutation in a susceptibility gene. A change of as little as a single nucleotide in the plants genetic material the smallest genetic change possible can confer disease resistance in a way that is absolutely indistinguishable from natural mutations that can happen spontaneously. Yet if the target gene and mutation site are carefully selected, a one-nucleotide mutation may be enough to achieve an important outcome.

There is a substantial body of research showing proof-of-concept that a knockout of a susceptibility gene can increase resistance in plants to a very wide variety of disease-causing microorganisms. An example that caught my attention pertained to powdery mildew of wheat, because fungicides (pesticides that control fungi) are commonly used against this disease. While this particular genetic knockout is not yet commercialized, I personally would rather eat wheat products from varieties that control disease through genetics than from crops treated with fungicides.

The Power of Viral Snippets

Plant viruses are often difficult to control in susceptible crop varieties. Conventional breeding can help make plants resistant to viruses, but sometimes it is not successful.

Early approaches to engineering virus resistance in plants involved inserting a gene from the virus into the plants genetic material. For example, plant-infecting viruses are surrounded by a protective layer of protein, called the coat protein. The gene for the coat protein of a virus called papaya ring spot virus was inserted into papaya. Through a process called RNAi, this empowers the plant to inactivate the virus when it invades. GE papaya has been a spectacular success, in large part saving the Hawaiian papaya industry.

Aerial view of a field trial showing virus-resistant papaya growing well while the surrounding susceptible papaya is severely damaged by the virus. Reproduced with permission from Gonsalves, D., et al. 2004. Transgenic virus-resistant papaya: From hope to reality in controlling papaya ringspot virus in Hawaii. APSnet Features. Online. DOI: 10.1094/APSnetFeature-2004-0704

Through time, researchers discovered that even just a very small fragment from one viral gene can stimulate RNAi-based resistance if precisely placed within a specific location in the plants DNA. Even better, they found we can stack resistance genes engineered with extremely modest changes in order to create a plant highly resistant to multiple viruses. This is important because, in the field, crops are often exposed to infection by several viruses.

Does eating this tiny bit of a viral gene sequence concern me? Absolutely not, for many reasons, including:

Tweaking Sentry Molecules

Microorganisms can often overcome plants biochemical defenses by producing molecules called effectors that interfere with those defenses. Plants respond by evolving proteins to recognize and disable these effector molecules. These recognition proteins are called R proteins (R standing for resistance). Their job is to recognize the invading effector molecule and trigger additional defenses. A third interesting approach, then, to help plants resist an invading microorganism is to engineer an R protein so that it recognizes effector molecules other than the one it evolved to detect. We can then use CRISPR to supply a plant with the very small amount of DNA needed to empower it to make this protein.

This approach, like susceptibility knockouts, is quite feasible, based on published research. Commercial implementation will require some willing private- or public-sector entity to do the development work and to face the very substantial and costly challenges of the regulatory process.

Engineered for Sustainability

The three examples here show that extremely modest engineered changes in plant genetics can result in very important benefits. All three examples involve engineered changes that trigger the natural defenses of the plant. No novel defense mechanisms were introduced in these research projects, a fact that may appeal to some consumers. The wise use of the advanced GE methods illustrated here, as well as others described elsewhere, has the potential to increase the sustainability of our food production systems, particularly given the well-established safety of GE crops and their products for consumption.

Read more here:

When genetic engineering is the environmentally friendly choice – Ensia

Should genetic engineering be used as a tool for conservation? – chinadialogue

Illustration by Luisa Rivere/Yale E360

The worldwide effort to return islands to their original wildlife, by eradicating rats, pigs, and other invasive species, has been one of the great environmental success stories of our time.Rewilding has succeeded on hundreds of islands, with beleaguered species surging back from imminent extinction, and dwindling bird colonies suddenly blossoming across old nesting grounds.

But these restoration campaigns are often massively expensive and emotionally fraught, with conservationists fearful of accidentally poisoning native wildlife, and animal rights activists having at times fiercely opposed the whole idea. So what if it were possible to rid islands of invasive species without killing a single animal? And at a fraction of the cost of current methods?

Thats the tantalising but also worrisome promise of synthetic biology, aBrave New Worldsort of technology that applies engineering principles to species and to biological systems. Its genetic engineering, but made easier and more precise by the new gene editing technology called CRISPR, which ecologists could use to splice in a DNA sequence designed to handicap an invasive species, or to help a native species adapt to a changing climate. Gene drive, another new tool, could then spread an introduced trait through a population far more rapidly than conventional Mendelian genetics would predict.

Want more stories like this in your inbox? Subscribe tochinadialogue’s weekly newsletter to get our latest articles.

Synthetic biology, also called synbio, is already a multi-billion dollar market, for manufacturing processes in pharmaceuticals, chemicals, biofuels, and agriculture. But many conservationists consider the prospect of using synbio methods as a tool for protecting the natural world deeply alarming. Jane Goodall, David Suzuki, and others havesigned a letterwarning that use of gene drives gives technicians the ability to intervene in evolution, to engineer the fate of an entire species, to dramatically modify ecosystems, and to unleash large-scale environmental changes, in ways never thought possible before.The signers of the letter argue that such a powerful and potentially dangerous technology should not be promoted as a conservation tool.

Environmentalists and synthetic biology engineers need to overcome what now amounts to mutual ignorance, a conservationist says.

On the other hand, a team of conservationbiologists writing early this yearin the journalTrends in Ecology and Evolutionran off a list of promising applications for synbio in the natural world, in addition to island rewilding:

Transplanting genes for resistance to white nose syndrome into bats, and for chytrid fungus into frogs and other amphibians.

Giving corals that are vulnerable to bleaching carefully selected genes from nearby corals that are more tolerant of heat and acidity.

Using artificial microbiomes to restore soils damaged by mining or pollution.

Eliminating populations of feral cats and dogs without euthanasia or surgical neutering, by producing generations that are genetically programmed to be sterile, or skewed to be overwhelmingly male.

And eradicating mosquitoes without pesticides, particularly in Hawaii, where they are highly destructive newcomers.

Kent Redford, a conservation consultant and co-author of that article, argues that conservationists and synbio engineers alike need to overcome what now amounts to mutual ignorance. Conservationists tend to have limited and often outdated knowledge of genetics and molecular biology, he says.Ina 2014 articleinOryx, he quoted one conservationist flatly declaring, Those were the courses we flunked. Stanford Universitys Drew Endy, one of the founders of synbio, volunteers in turn that 18 months ago he had never heard of the IUCN the International Union for Conservation of Nature or its Red List of endangered species.In engineering school, the ignorance gap is terrific, he adds.But its symmetric ignorance.

At a major synbio conference he organised last month in Singapore, Endy invited Redford and eight other conservationists to lead a session on biodiversity, with the aim, he says, of getting engineers building the bioeconomy to think about the natural world ahead of time My hope is that people are no longer merely nave in terms of their industrial disposition.

Likewise, Redford and the co-authors of the article inTrends in Ecology and Evolution, assert that it would be a disservice to the goal of protecting biodiversity if conservationists do not participate in applying the best science and thinkers to these issues. They argue that it is necessary to adapt the culture of conservation biologists to a rapidly-changing reality including the effects of climate change and emerging diseases.Twenty-first century conservation philosophy, the co-authors conclude, should embrace concepts of synthetic biology, and both seek and guide appropriate synthetic solutions to aid biodiversity.

Through gene drive technology, mice, rats or other invasive species can theoretically be eliminated from an island without killing anything.

The debate over synthetic biodiversity conservation, as theTrends in Ecology and Evolutionauthors term it, had its origins in a2003 paperby Austin Burt, an evolutionary geneticist at Imperial College London.He proposed a dramatically new tool for genetic engineering, based on certain naturally occurring selfish genetic elements, which manage to propagate themselves in as much as 99 percent of the next generation, rather than the usual 50 percent. Burt thought that it might be possible to use these super-Mendelian genes as a Trojan horse, to rapidly distribute altered DNA, and thus to genetically engineer natural populations. It was impractical at the time.Butdevelopmentof CRISPR technology soon brought the idea close to reality, and researchers have since demonstrated the effectiveness of gene drive, as the technique became known, in laboratory experiments on malaria mosquitoes, fruit flies, yeast, and human embryos.

Burt proposed one particularly ominous-sounding application for this new technology: It might be possible under certain conditions, he thought, that a genetic load sufficient to eradicate a population can be imposed in fewer than 20 generations. And this is, in fact, likely to be the first practical application of synthetic biodiversity conservation in the field. Eradicating invasive populationsis of coursethe inevitable first step in island rewilding projects.

The proposed eradication technique is to use the gene drive to deliver DNA that determines the gender of offspring.Because the gene drive propagates itself so thoroughly through subsequent generations, it can quickly cause a population to become almost all male and soon collapse.The result, at least in theory, is the elimination of mice, rats, or other invasive species from an island without anyone having killed anything.

Research to test the practicality of the method including moral, ethical, and legal considerations is already under way through a research consortium ofnonprofitgroups, universities, and government agencies in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.At North Carolina State University, for instance, researchers have begun working with a laboratory population of invasive mice taken from a coastal island.They need to determine how well a wild population will accept mice that have been altered in the laboratory.

The success of this idea depends heavily,according togene drive researcher Megan Serr, on the genetically modified male mice being studs with the island lady mice Will she want a hybrid male that is part wild, part lab? Beyond that, the research programme needs to figure out how many modified mice to introduce to eradicate an invasive population in a habitat of a particular size. Other significant practical challenges will also undoubtedly arise.For instance,a study early this yearin the journalGeneticsconcluded that resistance to CRISPR-modified gene drives should evolve almost inevitably in most natural populations.

Political and environmental resistance is also likely to develop.In an email, MIT evolutionary biologist Kevin Esvelt asserted that CRISPR-based gene drives are not suited for conservation due to the very high risk of spreading beyond the target species orenvironment. Even a gene drive systemintroduced toquickly eradicate an introduced population from an island, he added, still is likely to have over a year to escape or be deliberately transported off-island. If it is capable of spreading elsewhere, that is a major problem.

Even a highly contained field trial on a remote island is probably a decade or so away, said Heath Packard, of Island Conservation, a nonprofit that has been involved in numerous island rewilding projects and is now part of the research consortium.We are committed to a precautionary step-wise approach, with plenty of off-ramps, if it turns out to be too risky or not ethical.But his group notes that 80% of known extinctions over the past 500 or so years have occurred on islands, whicharealso home to 40% of species now considered at risk of extinction. That makes it important at least to begin to study the potential of synthetic biodiversity conservation.

Even if conservationists ultimately balk at these new technologies, business interests are already bringing synbio into the field for commercial purposes.For instance, a Pennsylvania State University researcher recently figured out how to use CRISPR gene editing to turn off genes that cause supermarket mushrooms to turn brown.The USDepartment of Agriculturelast year ruledthat these mushrooms would not be subject to regulation as a genetically modified organism because they contain no genes introduced from other species.

With those kinds of changes taking place all around them, conservationists absolutely must engage with the synthetic biology community, says Redford, and if we dont do so it will be at our peril. Synbio, he says, presents conservationists with a huge range of questions that no one is paying attention to yet.

This article originally appeared on Yale Environment 360 and is republished here with permission.

Read the original post:

Should genetic engineering be used as a tool for conservation? – chinadialogue

Scientists Give a Chrysanthemum the Blues – New York Times

Plant species blooming blue flowers are relatively rare, Naonobu Noda, a plant biologist at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Japan who led the research, noted in an email.

It took Dr. Noda and his colleagues years to create their blue chrysanthemum. They got close in 2013, engineering a bluer-colored one by splicing in a gene from Canterbury bells, which naturally make blue flowers. The resulting blooms were violet. This time, they added a gene from another naturally blue flower called the butterfly pea.

Both of these plants produce pigments for orange, red and purple called delphinidin-based anthocyanins. (Theyre present in cranberries, grapes and pomegranates, too.) Under a few different conditions, these pigments, which are sensitive to changes in pH, can start a chemical transformation within a flower, rendering it blue.

The additional gene did the trick. It added a sugar molecule to the pigment, shifting the plants pH and altering the chrysanthemums color. The researchers confirmed the color as blue by testing its wavelengths in the lab.

What they did was already being done in nature: No blue flowers actually have blue pigment. Neither do blue eyes or blue birds. They all get help from a few clever design hacks.

Blue flowers tend to result from the modification of red pigments shifting their acidity levels, switching up their molecules and ions, or mixing them with other molecules and ions.

Some petunias, for example, have a genetic mutation that breaks pumps inside their cells, altering their pH and turning them blue. Some morning glories shift from blue upon opening to pink upon closing, as acidity levels in the plant fluctuate. Many hydrangeas turn blue if the soil is acidified, as many gardeners know.

In vertebrates, blue coloring often is more about structure. Blue eyes exist because, lacking pigments to absorb color, they reflect blue light. Blue feathers, like those of the kingfisher, would be brown or gray without a special structural coating that reflects blue.

Reflection is also the reason for the most intense color in the world, the shiny blue of the marble-esque Pollia fruit in Africa.

Despite widespread blue-philia, the new chrysanthemums may meet a cool reception. A permit is required to sell genetically modified organisms in the United States, and there isnt one for these transgenic flowers.

Officials are wary of transgenic plants that might take root in the environment, because of their possible impacts on other plants and insects. Dr. Noda and his colleagues are working on blue chrysanthemums that cant reproduce, but its unlikely youll see them in the flower shop anytime soon.

Continued here:

Scientists Give a Chrysanthemum the Blues – New York Times

Human Genetic Engineering Begins! | National Review – National Review

Some of the most powerful technologies ever invented whichcan literally change human life at the DNAlevel aremoving forward with very little societal discussion or sufficient regulatory oversight. Technology Review is now reporting an attempt in the US to use CRISPR to genetically modify a human embryo. From the story:

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon,Technology Reviewhas learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results

Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.

Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few daysand there was never any intention of implanting them into a wombthe experiments are a milestone on what may prove to be an inevitable journey toward the birth of the first genetically modified humans.

It may begin with curing disease. But it wont stay there. Many are drooling to engage in eugenic genetic enhancements.

So, are we going to just watch, slack-jawed, the double-time marchto Brave New World unfoldbefore our eyes?

Or are we going to engage democratic deliberation to determine if this should be done, and if so, what the parameters are?

Considering recent history, I fear I know the answer.

And NO: I dont trust the scientists to regulate themselves.

Mr. President: We need a presidential bioethics/biotechnology commission now!

Originally posted here:

Human Genetic Engineering Begins! | National Review – National Review

True Blue Chrysanthemum Flowers Produced with Genetic Engineering – Scientific American

Roses are red, but science could someday turn them blue. Thats one of the possible future applications of a technique researchers have used to genetically engineer blue chrysanthemums for the first time.

Chyrsanthemums come in an array of colours, including pink, yellow and red. But all it took to engineer the truly blue hueand not a violet or bluish colourwas tinkering with two genes, scientists report in a study published on July 26 inScience Advances. The team says that the approach could be applied to other commercially important flowers, including carnations and lilies.

Consumers love novelty, says Nick Albert, a plant biologist at the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research in Palmerston North, New Zealand. And people actively seek out plants with blue flowers to fill their gardens.

Plenty of flowers are bluish, but its rare to find true blue in nature, says Naonobu Noda, a plant researcher at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization near Tsukuba, Japan, and lead study author. Scientists, including Noda, have tried to artificially produce blue blooms for years:efforts that have often produced violet or bluish huesin flowers such as roses and carnations. Part of the problem is that naturally blue blossoming plants arent closely related enough to commercially important flowers for traditional methodsincluding selective breedingto work.

Most truly blue blossoms overexpress genes that trigger the production of pigments called delphinidin-based anthocyanins. The trick to getting blue flowers in species that arent naturally that colour is inserting the right combination of genes into their genomes. Noda came close in a 2013 studywhen he and his colleagues found that adding a gene from a naturally blue Canterbury bells flower (Campanula medium) into the DNA of chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium) produced a violet-hued bloom.

Noda says he and his team expected that they would need to manipulate many more genes to get the blue chrysanthemum they produced in their latest study. But to their surprise, adding only one more borrowed gene from the naturally blue butterfly pea plant (Clitoria ternatea) was enough.

Anthocyanins can turn petals red, violet or blue, depending on the pigments structure. Noda and his colleagues found that genes from the Canterbury bells and butterfly pea altered the molecular structure of the anthocyanin in the chrysanthemum. When the modified pigments interacted with compounds called flavone glucosides, the resulting chrysanthemum flowers were blue. The team tested the wavelengths given off by their blossoms in several ways to ensure that the flowers were truly blue.

The quest for blue blooms wouldn’t only be applicable to the commercial flower market. Studying how these pigments work could also lead to the sustainable manufacture of artificial pigments, says Silvia Vignolini, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who has studied themolecular structure of the intensely blue marble berry.

Regardless, producing truly blue flowers is a great achievement and demonstrates that the underlying chemistry required to achieve ‘blue’ is complex and remains to be fully understood, says Albert.

This article is reproduced with permission and wasfirst publishedon July 26, 2017.

Read more from the original source:

True Blue Chrysanthemum Flowers Produced with Genetic Engineering – Scientific American

Pancreas in a Dish Tells Story of How Metastatic Cells Turn Back Time – Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (press release)

Pancreatic cancer is a killer; 85% of patients die within nine months of diagnosis. A new study sheds light on how the cancer spreads throughout the body.

The study, published in the journal Cell by researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, reports that the cancers spread is controlled by epigeneticschanges that arent hardwired into DNA, but affect how genes are expressed. To make this discovery, scientists grew and tested balls of cells that mimic the shape and behavior of the pancreas, known as pancreatic organoids. These organoids may one day lead to personalized cancer treatments.

In a few years, pancreatic cancer will become the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United Stateseclipsing colon and breast canceraccording to Howard Crawford, director of the pancreas research program at University of Michigan. But pancreatic cancer garners far less public attention than other malignancies.

Thats because we dont have any survivors, Crawford tells GEN. We dont have people that can bring a lot of press. We all have to rely on the patients families and loved ones to raise awareness. And thats a challenge.

The cancer is so deadly because pancreatic tumors regularly break off and spread to far-flung regions of the bodya process known as metastasis. Scientists have tried to identify genes that control the cancer, but genetics dont tell the whole story.

We have a pretty good understanding of how pancreatic cells become pancreatic tumor cells, said Chang-Il Hwang, postdocoral fellow and co-first author of the study. We dont know how they metastasize to distant organs.

To understand the cancers spread, Hwang and colleagues collected pancreatic tumors and their metastases from mice and grew the cells in a dish. The cells formed tiny 3D structures known as organoids, which looked and acted like pancreatic cells.

When the researchers compared organoids from the initial tumor to organoids from the metastases, they didnt find major genetic differences. But they did see that metastatic organoids had more active enhancersshort regions of DNA that boost gene expression by binding to proteins.

The roughly 800 enhancers active in metastatic organoids were linked to embryonic pancreas formation. In effect, metastatic cells were turning back the clock and reverting to an earlier state in order to leave the pancreas.

The researchers analyzed the DNA sequences of the enhancers to find the protein that binds to them, and found FOXA1. When they expressed high levels of FOXA1 in organoids and injected them into the tails of mice, the organoids spread to the lunga sign of metastasis. But when the researchers injected mice with organoids lacking FOXA1, they didnt metastasize.

The scientists also checked human pancreatic tissue samples and found that FOXA1 increased with disease severityconsistent with its role in metastasis. Hwang is now working to better understand how FOXA1 works in order to develop future therapies.

The future goal will be to try to utilize this information to benefit metastatic pancreatic cancer patients, said Hwang.

Because organoids are grown from a patients cells, Hwang and others may be able to use them to personalize cancer treatments. A researcher could grow organoids from a tumor, treat those organoids with a variety of drugs, and see which drugs work best before administering the drug to a patient. But this takes timesomething that pancreatic cancer patients have in short supply.

It takes almost a month or more to establish a good organoid culture from a pancreatic patient, said Crawford. If a patient has six to nine months to live, thats not a lot of time.

Crawford believes the key is earlier diagnosis. Ten percent of patients have a family history of the disease and genetic markers that put them at risk. He thinks these people should be screened early and often. But screening the rest of the population will be a challenge.

We have to have a fairly perfect way to screen [the] population, he said. Even with a 98% or 99% success rate theres a large number of people there that would falsely be diagnosed and a few that would be missed.

Here is the original post:

Pancreas in a Dish Tells Story of How Metastatic Cells Turn Back Time – Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (press release)

‘True blue’ chrysanthemum flowers produced with genetic engineering – Nature.com

Naonobu Noda/NARO

Giving chrysanthemums the blues was easier than researchers thought it would be.

Roses are red, but science could someday turn them blue. Thats one of the possible future applications of a technique researchers have used to genetically engineer blue chrysanthemums for the first time.

Chyrsanthemums come in an array of colours, including pink, yellow and red. But all it took to engineer the truly blue hue and not a violet or bluish colour was tinkering with two genes, scientists report in a study published on 26 July in Science Advances1. The team says that the approach could be applied to other commercially important flowers, including carnations and lilies.

Consumers love novelty, says Nick Albert, a plant biologist at the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research in Palmerston North, New Zealand. And people actively seek out plants with blue flowers to fill their gardens.

Plenty of flowers are bluish, but its rare to find true blue in nature, says Naonobu Noda, a plant researcher at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization near Tsukuba, Japan, and lead study author. Scientists, including Noda, have tried to artificially produce blue blooms for years: efforts that have often produced violet or bluish hues in flowers such as roses and carnations. Part of the problem is that naturally blue blossoming plants arent closely related enough to commercially important flowers for traditional methods including selective breeding to work.

Most truly blue blossoms overexpress genes that trigger the production of pigments called delphinidin-based anthocyanins. The trick to getting blue flowers in species that arent naturally that colour is inserting the right combination of genes into their genomes. Noda came close in a 2013 study2 when he and his colleagues found that adding a gene from a naturally blue Canterbury bells flower (Campanula medium) into the DNA of chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium) produced a violet-hued bloom.

Noda says he and his team expected that they would need to manipulate many more genes to get the blue chrysanthemum they produced in their latest study. But to their surprise, adding only one more borrowed gene from the naturally blue butterfly pea plant (Clitoria ternatea) was enough.

Anthocyanins can turn petals red, violet or blue, depending on the pigments structure. Noda and his colleagues found that genes from the Canterbury bells and butterfly pea altered the molecular structure of the anthocyanin in the chrysanthemum. When the modified pigments interacted with compounds called flavone glucosides, the resulting chrysanthemum flowers were blue. The team tested the wavelengths given off by their blossoms in several ways to ensure that the flowers were truly blue.

The quest for blue blooms wouldn’t only be applicable to the commercial flower market. Studying how these pigments work could also lead to the sustainable manufacture of artificial pigments, says Silvia Vignolini, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who has studied the molecular structure of the intensely blue marble berry.

Regardless, producing truly blue flowers is a great achievement and demonstrates that the underlying chemistry required to achieve ‘blue’ is complex and remains to be fully understood, says Albert.

See the article here:

‘True blue’ chrysanthemum flowers produced with genetic engineering – Nature.com

Ghana mulling genetic engineering to combat armyworm crop damage – Genetic Literacy Project

[Ghanas] Ministry of Environment, Science, Innovation and Technology has encouraged local scientists to intensify research into ways to fight the fall army worm.

[At the] Council for Scientific and Industrial Researchs (CSIR) Open Day in Kumasi [capital city of Ghanas Ashanti region], Sector Minister, Professor Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, said the Crop Research Institute (CRI) has medium and long term plans using science and genetic engineering to produce something that could fight the fall armyworm in the years to come.

He added that it will help solve the threat of the deadly pest, which has destroyed swathes of farm fields across the country, and also a threat to governments Planting for food and Jobs program.

Professor Frimpong Boateng stated that he is elated that the Minister of Agriculture has affirmed his support to the research.

He also added that the research will include seed development so that by four years time the country will be able to produce more seeds and import less.

To the research community, the president has promised to devote 1% of the GDP towards research and development for all of us, if the right structures are put in place, he said.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Environment Ministry to intensify research on how to deal with fall armyworm infestation

Read the original here:

Ghana mulling genetic engineering to combat armyworm crop damage – Genetic Literacy Project

Genetically Engineering Nature Will Be Way More Complicated Than We Thought – Gizmodo

For more than half a century, scientists have dreamed of harnessing an odd quirk of nature selfish genes, which bypass the normal 50/50 laws of inheritance and force their way into offspringto engineer entire species. A few years ago, the advent of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology turned this science fictional concept into a dazzling potential reality, called a gene drive. But after all the hype, and fear of the technologys misuse, scientists are now questioning whether gene drives will work at all.

Gene drive is a molecular technology that forces an edited gene to be passed along into all of an organisms offspring, overriding natures 50/50 inheritance mix. The first human-engineered gene drive was only demonstrated in fruit flies in 2015, but scientists were soon talking about using gene drives to exterminate invasive pests or kill off throngs of malarial mosquitoes.

But soon after,other researchers demonstrated that as an infertility mutation in female mosquitoes was successfully passed on to offspring over many generations, resistance emerged, allowing some mosquitoes to avoid inheriting the mutation. Just as bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics, wild populations can develop resistance to modifications aimed at destroying them. Gene drive, dead.

Now, in a new paper out Thursday in PLOS Genetics, scientists at Cornell show that, at least in fruit flies, many more flies than expected seemed to possess a natural genetic resistance to gene drive. The paper offers even stronger evidence that engineering large populations of wild species isnt as simple as splicing open a genome and inserting some gene drive DNA.

In New Zealand, the government is mulling using gene drives to wipe out invasive pests. On Nantucket and Marthas Vineyard, one scientist wants to use it to eradicate Lyme disease. In Guam, they want to control tree snakes. But not so fast, scientists are saying.

These resistance rates were so high that a gene drive would not spread in a population, Phillip Messer, a co-author on the study, told Gizmodo. Our take home is that resistance is clearly a bigger problem than we had initially thought. This technology could still work, but its not as simple as the first papers suggested.

The Cornell paper appeared alongside an opinion piece with a headline that suggested a provocative notion: Until now, the conversation about gene drives has existed in a reality-free bubble.

This resistance outcome would easily thwart virtually any intended application of a gene drive, and it poses a serious challenge to the many hoped-for applications of this technology, its authors wrote.

Resistance isnt the only hurdle to putting gene drives to practical use. For one, so far, synthetic gene drives have only been demonstrated to work in insects and yeast. Safety is a big concern. And based on the outcry such science has already seen from environmental groups, its safe to say there will be a fair number of regulatory and political obstacles, too.

But resistance may very well be the biggest problem, and its a problem that has been downplayed until recently.

People are starting to dig more into the nuances of this stuff and were getting into the nitty gritty of what needs to be addressed, Gabriel Zenter, an Indiana University biologist, told Gizmodo.

In the new research, scientists for the first time gave some hint of the mechanisms that may be responsible for resistance. Certain flies, even though they were all members of the same species, just seemed to be better equipped genetically to fight back against a drive. They also found that resistance developed both before fertilization in the germline, and within an embryo. And resistance could crop up within a single generation. This means that were a gene drive deployed in the wild, it is hard to say how effective it would really be.

You dont know whats lurking around in the genome that could influence a gene drive positively or negatively, said Zenter, who was not associated with the study. People didnt anticipate things like the genetic background issue. I think were kind of coming towards a more mature understanding of the hurdles that will need surmounted.

At least a few research groups already are working on a way around those hurdles. In another paper out this year, researchers proposed a way to redesign gene drives in order to work around potential immunity, hypothesizing that a more complex architecture would make it difficult for a mutation to occur in a short period of time. Instead of just including instructions for a gene drive to cut a piece of DNA in one place, their architecture it cuts in multiple places, meaning it would require multiple mutations to overwrite the drive. They also suggested a second method that harnesses a species survival programing, targeting areas of the genome that are essential to a species fitness, and which are less likely to mutate in the first place.

In a pre-print paper, Messers lab has already experimented with the first scenario. It works, but not as well as we had hoped, he said.

In the end, he said, a working gene drive will probably be much more complex than anyone imagines, incorporating several different strategies into the architecture to override resistance.

Charleston Noble, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate studying gene drives, is more optimistic. After all, he points out, mosquito species have shown to be naturally less likely to develop resistance than fruit flies. Not every species might be so tricky to manipulate, and in some cases you may not need to alter an entire population to bring about the desired change.

And Kevin Esvelt, a synthetic biologist at MIT, said the experiments only confirmed what scientists have long known.

These elegant experiments conclusively show that there is no reason to build a gene drive system that only cleaves a single site, he told Gizmodo. Im not so sure it amounts to popping a bubble in the field, or that this is any kind of new reality.

In the realm of synthetic biology, it has become a well-worn cliche that life finds a way. In the end, though, there is something to it. Engineering nature will require more than the flip of a simple genetic switch.

Follow this link:

Genetically Engineering Nature Will Be Way More Complicated Than We Thought – Gizmodo

Should Genetic Engineering Be Used as a Tool for Conservation? – Yale Environment 360

Researchers are considering ways to use synthetic biology for such conservation goals as eradicating invasive species or strengthening endangered coral. But environmentalists are worried about the ethical questions and unwanted consequences of this new gene-altering technology.

By RichardConniff July20,2017

The worldwide effort to return islands to their original wildlife, by eradicating rats, pigs, and other invasive species, has been one of the great environmental success stories of our time. Rewilding has succeeded on hundreds of islands, with beleaguered species surging back from imminent extinction, and dwindling bird colonies suddenly blossoming across old nesting grounds.

But these restoration campaigns are often massively expensive and emotionally fraught, with conservationists fearful of accidentally poisoning native wildlife, and animal rights activists having at times fiercely opposed the whole idea. So what if it were possible to rid islands of invasive species without killing a single animal? And at a fraction of the cost of current methods?

Thats the tantalizing but also worrisome promise of synthetic biology, aBrave New Worldsort of technology that applies engineering principles to species and to biological systems. Its genetic engineering, but made easier and more precise by the new gene editing technology called CRISPR, which ecologists could use to splice in a DNA sequence designed to handicap an invasive species, or to help a native species adapt to a changing climate. Gene drive, another new tool, could then spread an introduced trait through a population far more rapidly than conventional Mendelian genetics would predict.

Synthetic biology, also called synbio, is already a multi-billion dollar market, for manufacturing processes in pharmaceuticals, chemicals, biofuels, and agriculture. But many conservationists consider the prospect of using synbio methods as a tool for protecting the natural world deeply alarming. Jane Goodall, David Suzuki, and others havesigned a letterwarning that use of gene drives gives technicians the ability to intervene in evolution, to engineer the fate of an entire species, to dramatically modify ecosystems, and to unleash large-scale environmental changes, in ways never thought possible before. The signers of the letter argue that such a powerful and potentially dangerous technology should not be promoted as a conservation tool.

On the other hand, a team of conservation biologists writing early this year in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution ran off a list of promising applications for synbio in the natural world, in addition to island rewilding:

Kent Redford, a conservation consultant and co-author of that article, argues that conservationists and synbio engineers alike need to overcome what now amounts to mutual ignorance. Conservationists tend to have limited and often outdated knowledge of genetics and molecular biology, he says. In a 2014 article in Oryx, he quoted one conservationist flatly declaring, Those were the courses we flunked. Stanford Universitys Drew Endy, one of the founders of synbio, volunteers in turn that 18 months ago he had never heard of the IUCNthe International Union for Conservation of Natureor its Red List of endangered species. In engineering school, the ignorance gap is terrific, he adds. But its symmetric ignorance.

At a major synbio conference he organized last month in Singapore, Endy invited Redford and eight other conservationists to lead a session on biodiversity, with the aim, he says, of getting engineers building the bioeconomy to think about the natural world ahead of time My hope is that people are no longer merely nave in terms of their industrial disposition.

Likewise, Redford and the co-authors of the article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, assert that it would be a disservice to the goal of protecting biodiversity if conservationists do not participate in applying the best science and thinkers to these issues. They argue that it is necessary to adapt the culture of conservation biologists to a rapidly-changing realityincluding the effects of climate change and emerging diseases. Twenty-first century conservation philosophy, the co-authors conclude, should embrace concepts of synthetic biology, and both seek and guide appropriate synthetic solutions to aid biodiversity.

The debate over synthetic biodiversity conservation, as theTrends in Ecology and Evolutionauthors term it, had its origins in a2003 paperby Austin Burt, an evolutionary geneticist at Imperial College London. He proposed a dramatically new tool for genetic engineering, based on certain naturally occurring selfish genetic elements, which manage to propagate themselves in as much as 99 percent of the next generation, rather than the usual 50 percent. Burt thought that it might be possible to use these super-Mendelian genes as a Trojan horse, to rapidly distribute altered DNA, and thus to genetically engineer natural populations. It was impractical at the time. Butdevelopmentof CRISPR technology soon brought the idea close to reality, and researchers have since demonstrated the effectiveness of gene drive, as the technique became known, in laboratory experiments on malaria mosquitoes, fruit flies, yeast, and human embryos.

Burt proposed one particularly ominous-sounding application for this new technology: It might be possible under certain conditions, he thought, that a genetic load sufficient to eradicate a population can be imposed in fewer than 20 generations. And this is, in fact, likely to be the first practical application of synthetic biodiversity conservation in the field. Eradicating invasive populationsis of coursethe inevitable first step in island rewilding projects.

The proposed eradication technique is to use the gene drive to deliver DNA that determines the gender of offspring. Because the gene drive propagates itself so thoroughly through subsequent generations, it can quickly cause a population to become almost all male and soon collapse. The result, at least in theory, is the elimination of mice, rats, or other invasive species from an island without anyone having killed anything.

Research to test the practicality of the methodincluding moral, ethical, and legal considerationsis already under way through a research consortium ofnonprofitgroups, universities, and government agencies in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. At North Carolina State University, for instance, researchers have begun working with a laboratory population of invasive mice taken from a coastal island. They need to determine how well a wild population will accept mice that have been altered in the laboratory.

The success of this idea depends heavily,according togene drive researcher Megan Serr, on the genetically modified male mice being studs with the island lady mice Will she want a hybrid male that is part wild, part lab? Beyond that, the research program needs to figure out how many modified mice to introduce to eradicate an invasive population in a habitat of a particular size. Other significant practical challenges will also undoubtedly arise. For instance,a study early this yearin the journalGeneticsconcluded that resistance to CRISPR-modified gene drives should evolve almost inevitably in most natural populations.

Political and environmental resistance is also likely to develop. In an email, MIT evolutionary biologist Kevin Esvelt asserted that CRISPR-based gene drives are not suited for conservation due to the very high risk of spreading beyond the target species orenvironment. Even a gene drive systemintroduced toquickly eradicate an introduced population from an island, he added, still is likely to have over a year to escape or be deliberately transported off-island. If it is capable of spreading elsewhere, that is a major problem.

Even a highly contained field trial on a remote island is probably a decade or so away, said Heath Packard, of Island Conservation, a nonprofit that has been involved in numerous island rewilding projects and is now part of the research consortium. We are committed to a precautionary step-wise approach, with plenty of off-ramps, if it turns out to be too risky or not ethical. But his group notes that 80 percent of known extinctions over the past 500 or so years have occurred on islands, whicharealso home to 40 percent of species now considered at risk of extinction. That makes it important at least to begin to study the potential of synthetic biodiversity conservation.

Even if conservationists ultimately balk at these new technologies, business interests are already bringing synbio into the field for commercial purposes. For instance, a Pennsylvania State University researcher recently figured out how to use CRISPR gene editing to turn off genes that cause supermarket mushrooms to turn brown. The U.S. Department of Agriculturelast year ruledthat these mushrooms would not be subject to regulation as a genetically modified organism because they contain no genes introduced from other species.

With those kinds of changes taking place all around them, conservationists absolutely must engage with the synthetic biology community, says Redford, and if we dont do so it will be at our peril. Synbio, he says, presents conservationists with a huge range of questions that no one is paying attention to yet.

Richard Conniff is a National Magazine Award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in The New York Times, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and other publications. His latest book is House of Lost Worlds: Dinosaurs, Dynasties, and the Story of Life on Earth. He is a frequent contributor to Yale Environment 360. More about Richard Conniff

Go here to see the original:

Should Genetic Engineering Be Used as a Tool for Conservation? – Yale Environment 360

DARPA funds $65 million for safer genetic engineering and technology to fight bioterrorism – Next Big Future

DARPA created the Safe Genes program to gain a fundamental understanding of how gene editing technologies function; devise means to safely,>A responsibly, and predictably harness them for beneficial ends; and address potential health and security concerns related to their accidental or intentional misuse. DARPA announced awards to seven teams that will pursue that mission, led by: The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Harvard Medical School; Massachusetts General Hospital; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; North Carolina State University; University of California, Berkeley; and University of California, Riverside. DARPA plans to invest $65 million in Safe Genes over the next four years as these teams work to collect empirical data and develop a suite of versatile tools that can be applied independently or in combination to support bio-innovation and combat bio-threats.

UC Berkeleys Jennifer Doudna, who co-invented CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, will investigate whether these gene editing tools might someday be capable of disabling bioterrorism threats, such as novel infectious agents or weapons employing CRISPR itself.

Scientists have also uncovered numerous variants of the Cas9 protein that have potential use in research or medical therapy, plus proteins called anti-CRISPRs that throw a wrench into the Cas machinery and stop gene editing. The UC Berkeley-led collaboration will explore the potential of all of these.

Our focus is not only to make new Cas proteins that are more accurate, but also ones that dont necessarily cut the genome, said Kyle Watters, a postdoctoral researcher in Doudnas lab who is overseeing some of the work. These engineered Cas proteins might instead prevent certain genes from being expressed, for example, so that even though they change fundamental processes in your body, they are not ultimately changing the blueprint of your DNA.

This could involve targeting messenger RNA, the working copy of the gene used to build proteins, or recruiting enzymes to modify the epigenome chemical signals like methyl groups that signal the cell whether to transcribe genes or leave them alone.

The researchers hope to generate new and better tools from these specialized Cas enzymes, develop anti-CRISPR proteins as a kill switch to halt gene editing a sort of fail-safe mechanism and explore new ways of delivering fully functional CRISPR-Cas complexes into live cells.

Gene editing technologies have captured increasing attention from healthcare professionals, policymakers, and community leaders in recent years for their potential to selectively disable cancerous cells in the body, control populations of disease-spreading mosquitos, and defend native flora and fauna against invasive species, among other uses. The potential national security applications and implications of these technologies are equally profound, including protection of troops against infectious disease, mitigation of threats posed by irresponsible or nefarious use of biological technologies, and enhanced development of new resources derived from synthetic biology, such as novel chemicals, materials, and coatings with useful, unique properties.

Achieving such ambitious goals, however, will require more complete knowledge about how gene editors, and derivative technologies including gene drives, function at various physical and temporal scales under different environmental conditions, across multiple generations of an organism. In parallel, demonstrating the ability to precisely control gene edits, turning them on and off under certain conditions or even reversing their effects entirely, will be paramount to translation of these tools to practical applications. By establishing empirical foundations and removing lingering unknowns through laboratory-based demonstrations, the Safe Genes teams will work to substantially minimize the risks inherent in such powerful tools.

The field of gene editing has been advancing at an astounding pace, opening the door to previously impossible genetic solutions but without much emphasis on how to mitigate potential downsides, said Renee Wegrzyn, the Safe Genes program manager. DARPA launched Safe Genes to begin to refine those capabilities by emphasizing safety first for the full range of potential applications, enabling responsible science to proceed by providing tools to prevent and mitigate misuse.

Each of the seven teams will pursue one or more of three technical objectives: develop genetic constructsbiomolecular instructionsthat provide spatial, temporal, and reversible control of genome editors in living systems; devise new drug-based countermeasures that provide prophylactic and treatment options to limit genome editing in organisms and protect genome integrity in populations of organisms; and create a capability to eliminate unwanted engineered genes from systems and restore them to genetic baseline states. Safe Genes research will not involve any releases of organisms into the environment; however, the researchperformed in contained facilitiescould inform potential future applications, including safe, predictable, and reversible gene drives.

During the course of the program, teams will engage with potential stakeholders, including government regulators, to increase the value of the science and to shape experiments around their questions and concerns. Additionally, as an aid to policymakers, the teams will establish models for incorporating stakeholder engagement into future decisions on whether and how to apply such tools.

Part of our challenge and commitment under Safe Genes is to make sense of the ethical implications of gene editing technologies, understanding peoples concerns and directing our research to proactively address them so that stakeholders are equipped with data to inform future choices, Wegrzyn said. As with all powerful capabilities, society can and should weigh the risks and merits of responsibly using such tools. We believe that further research and development can inform that conversation by helping people to understand and shape what is possible, probable, and vulnerable with these technologies. Gene editing is truly a case where you cant easily draw a line between ethics and pure technology developmenttheyre inextricableand were hopeful that the model we establish with Safe Genes will guide future research efforts in this space.

The efforts funded under the Safe Genes program fall into two broad categories: gene drive and genetic remediation technologies, and in vivo therapeutic applications of gene editors in mammals.

* A team led by Dr. Amit Choudhary (Broad Institute/Brigham and Womens Hospital-Renal Division/Harvard Medical School) is developing means to switch on and off genome editing in bacteria, mammals, and insects, including control of gene drives in a mosquito vector for malaria, Anopheles stephensi. The team seeks to build a general platform for the rapid and cost-effective identification of chemicals that will block contemporary and next-generation genome editors. Such chemicals could propel the development of therapeutic applications of genome editors by limiting off-target effects or protect against future biological threats. The team will also construct synthetic genome editors for precision genome engineering. * A Harvard Medical School team led by Dr. George Church seeks to develop systems to safeguard genomes by detecting, preventing, and ultimately reversing mutations that may arise from exposure to radiation. This work will involve creation of novel computational and molecular tools to enable the development of precise editors that can distinguish between highly similar genetic sequences. The team also plans to screen the effectiveness of natural and synthetic drugs to inhibit gene editing activity. * A Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) team led by Dr. Keith Joung aims to develop novel, highly sensitive methods to control and measure on-target genome editing activityand limit and measure off-target activityand apply these methods to regulate the activity of mosquito gene drive systems over multiple generations. State-of-the-art technologies for measuring on- and off-target activity require specialized expertise; the MGH team hopes to enable orders of magnitude higher sensitivity than what is available with existing methods and make this process routine and scalable. The team will also develop novel strategies to achieve control over genome editors, including drug-regulated versions of these molecules. The team will take advantage of contained facilities that simulate natural environments to study how drive systems perform in mosquitos under conditions approximating the real world. * A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team led by Dr. Kevin Esvelt has been selected to pursue modular daisy drive platforms with the potential to safely, efficiently, and reversibly edit local sub-populations of organisms within a geographic region of interest. Daisy drive systems are self-exhausting because they sequentially lose genetic elements until the drive system stops spreading. In one proposed variant, natural selection is anticipated to favor the edited or original version depending on which is in the majority, keeping genetic alterations confined to a specified region and potentially allowing targeted populations of organisms to be restored to wild-type genetics. MIT plans to conduct the majority of its work in nematodes, a simple type of worm that reproduces rapidly, enabling high-throughput testing of different drive configurations and predictive models over multiple generations. The team then aims to adapt this system in the laboratory for up to three key mosquito species relevant to human and animal health, gradually improving performance in mosquitos through an iterative cycle of model, test, and refine. * A North Carolina State University (NCSU) team led by Dr. John Godwin aims to develop and test a mammalian gene drive system in rodents. The teams genetic technique targets population-specific genetic variants found only in particular invasive communities of animals. If successful, the work will expand the tools available to manage invasive species that threaten biodiversity and human food security, and that serve as potential reservoirs of infectious diseases affecting native animal and human populations. The team also plans to develop mathematical models of how drives would function in mice, and then perform testing in contained, simulated natural environments to gauge the robustness, spatial limitation, and reversibility of the drives. * A University of California, Berkeley team led by Dr. Jennifer Doudna will investigate the development of novel, safe gene editing tools for use as antiviral agents in animal models, targeting the Zika and Ebola viruses. The team will also aim to identify anti-CRISPR proteins capable of inhibiting unwanted genome-editing activity, while developing novel strategies for delivery of genome editors and inhibitors. * A University of California, Riverside team led by Dr. Omar Akbari seeks to develop robust and reversible gene drive systems for control of Aedes aegypti mosquito populations, to be tested in contained, simulated natural environments. Preliminary testing will be conducted in high-throughput, rapidly reproducing populations of yeast as a model system. As part of this effort, the team will establish new temporal and environmental, context-dependent molecular strategies programmed to limit gene editor activity, create multiple capabilities to eliminate unwanted gene drives from populations through passive or active reversal, and establish mathematical models to inform design of gene drive systems and establish criteria for remediation strategies. In support of these goals, the team will sample the diversity of wild populations of Ae. aegypti.

The teams intend to refine their research over the course of the program, building initial mathematical models of gene editing systems, testing them in insect and animal models to validate hypotheses, and feeding the results back into the simulations to tune parameters. Teams will also incorporate insights garnered from engagement with regulators and in some cases from local communities considering gene editing applications, and may run additional experiments to collect data that address concerns and could inform future regulatory reviews.

Given the potential of gene editing systems to broadly impact national security, health, and the environment, DARPA is committed to a high level of transparency and engagement in its Safe Genes research. The program will work with independent experts to help DARPA and the teams think through Legal, Ethical, Environmental, Dual-Use, and Responsible innovation (LEEDR) issues. In a separate but related effort, DARPA previously co-funded a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on gene drives to help initiate the development of a framework for considering the implications of advances in gene editing, and to make recommendations on a responsible way forward.

One aspect of Safe Genes that Im most proud of is that were involving potential stakeholders from the beginning, many of whom are already considering gene editing technologies as options for responding to different health and environmental challenges but who have questions about how solutions involving gene editors would actually work, said Wegrzyn. DARPA sees their involvement in the Safe Genes program as invaluable for developing a model in which consideration of societal impact isnt an afterthought, but instead a foundation on which science advances.

Read this article:

DARPA funds $65 million for safer genetic engineering and technology to fight bioterrorism – Next Big Future


...1020...2829303132...405060...