Advances in biotechnology: Genomics and genome editing

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Genomics, the study of genes, their functions and related techniques has become a crucial science for developing understanding of life processes and how they evolve. Since the advent of the human genome project, huge strides have been made in developing understanding of DNA and RNA sequence information and how it can be put to good use in the biotechnology sector. Newly derived sequencing and bioinformatics tools have added to the torrent of new insights gained, so that ‘sequence once and query often’ type DNA apps are now becoming reality. Genome editing, using tools such as CRISPR/Cas9 nuclease or Cpf1 nuclease, provide rapid methods for inserting, deleting or modifying DNA sequences in highly precise ways, in virtually any animal, plant or microbial system. Recent international discussions have considered human germline gene editing, amongst other aspects of this technology. Whether or not gene edited plants will be considered as genetically modified remains an important question. This will determine the regulatory processes adopted by different groups of nations and applicability to feeding the world’s ever growing population. Questions surrounding the intellectual property rights associated with gene editing must also be resolved. Mitochondrial replacement therapy leading to ‘3-Parent Babies’ has been successfully carried out in Mexico, by an international team, to correct mother to child mitochondrial disease transmission. The UK has become the first country to legally allow ‘cautious use’ of mitochondrial donation in treatment. Genomics and genome editing will continue to advance what can be achieved technically, whilst society determines whether or not what can be done should be applied.

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