Gene editing with no boundaries now aggressively pursued by China … Plants, animals and even soldiers to all become GMOs
American corporations are racing against Chinese companies to develop technology that would allow them to genetically modify everything on the planet, including human beings.
As reported by Bloomberg News, Chinese firms are pouring no small amount of resources into building expertise on genomics. Also, the Chinese government is throwing money and resources at another tool, Crispr, a controversial genome-editing program, while encouraging its researchers and scientists to advance the technology.
Chinese scientists claim to be the first to use Crispr to make wheat resistant to a common fungal disease, to make dogs more muscular and to make pigs leaner.
As Bloomberg News reported further:
The scientific research bankrolled by the Chinese government could eventually be tapped by agricultural and pharmaceutical companies. Programs funded by Beijing are, among other things, working on disease-resistant tomatoes, breast cancer treatments and increasing the oil content in soy beans. In the southern city of Guangzhou, researchers who received government funds went a step further, sparking an international ethical debate last year after tweaking the genetic make up of human embryos using Crispr for the first time.
Formally known as Crispr-Cas9, the genetic editing tool works like two low-cost but highly precise molecular scissors, cutting out undesirable or unwanted portions of DNA, replacing it with desired ones. The system has essentially revolutionized what used to be a very time-consuming and expensive process that was also not very accurate. Now, scientists and countries are falling all over themselves to exploit and advance the technology, and for a range of uses and purposes – some of which are not likely to be ethical or smart.
In China, groups are developing expertise that will position them to eventually challenge U.S. companies, some of which have already raised millions of dollars in seed money.
The race is on
“I would rank the U.S. and China as first and second Crispr-Cas9 research countries, respectively, at this time. Both countries have much strength in this area,” Paul Knoepfler, an associate professor of cell biology and human anatomy at the University of California’s UC Davis School of Medicine, told Bloomberg News. Knoepfler recently published a book, GMO Sapiens, which put forth the notion that gene-editing and modification technology could be used to alter humans.
“The U.S. currently gets the edge in high-profile papers, Crispr biotech and intellectual property. China has published a lot in Crispr animals,” he said.
Bloomberg News reported that the Boston Consulting Group estimated that U.S. companies entering the gene-editing field have amassed some $1 billion in investment since 2013. They include Editas Medicine Inc., Poseida Therapeutics Inc., and Intellia Therapeutics Inc., all of which are researching Crispr to address various health disorders.
Though the system has not yet proven effective in creating new treatments, Big Pharma sees Crispr as a potentially impactful tool, with hopes that it could eventually help create therapies for conditions ranging from cancer to blood diseases.
Stronger, faster soldiers and police officers?
Bloomberg News noted:
A Chinese team at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou last year became the first to report Crispr work in human embryos, attempting to edit a gene that causes the blood disorder, thalassemia. The study was at least partly funded by two government-run organizations, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and another called the National Basic Research Program.
Internationally, the research caused some angst, even though the Chinese scientists said that they only used “non-viable” human embryos – those obtained via fertility clinics that did not have any potential for live birth. The U.S. government does not fund any work that creates or destroys human embryos for research.
In China, however, there could be interest in using Crispr to modify humans – especially those who belong to the state’s security apparatus.
One Chinese science team that snipped DNA which boosted muscle growth in dogs, allowing them to jump higher, run faster and be stronger, is eyeing using Crispr technology which “could potentially benefit the police and military in the future if applied to canine breeds commonly used by law enforcement agencies.” From there, it’s just one short step to altering human DNA for stronger, faster soldiers and police.
Author: J. D. Heyes