DNA modification is one of the most important discoveries in modern science. Genetic editing technique CRISPR has shown so far that it has the potential to treat the most difficult conditions, but a study casts doubt on its safety.
Scientists believe that genetic engineering technology could have hidden dangerous side effects. A systematic investigation of CRISPR/Cas9 genomic editing in both mice and humans has revealed that the technique appears to frequently cause extensive mutations and genetic damage, which the researchers say could not be detected by existing DNA tests.
“This is the first systematic evaluation of the unexpected events resulting from CRISPR/Cas9”, said Allan Bradley of the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK. He says changes to DNA have been underestimated to date.
This is not the first time scientists have questioned the safety of genetic engineering. In May last year, a team of Columbia University researchers announced that the genetic editing tool could introduce hundreds of genome mutations, in addition to what they wanted.
Later, allegations were withdrawn because the scientists involved failed to prove their own hypothesis, but since then other research has emerged claiming that the technique involves dangerous side effects.
To investigate these possibilities, Allan Bradley and colleagues examined the effects of the technique on stem cells of mice and human epithelial retinal cells. Thus, researchers have systematically studied the process and found that, as claimed by the previous study, there were mutations beyond the desired target.
Not only do these significant DNA mutations have harmful effects – they interrupt the functioning of healthy genes and cells – but scientists say they cannot be detected by genotyping DNA tests.
In the worst case scenario, if these changes were given to the patient through a CRISPR/Cas9 treatment, important genes might be on and off, which could cause serious health problems.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.