The Relationship Between CRISPR-Cas9 and Stem Cells
Have you ever wondered if it is possible to cure cancer, have genetically related babies from same-sex parents, completely eradicate mosquitoes, resurrect an extinct species, or even insert a GIF into bacteria and have the bacteria replicate the GIF? With technology becoming more advanced by the hour, increasing possibilities are arising. In 1993, certain segments of DNA were discovered, called CRISPR (Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). Twelve years later, Cas9, an enzyme responsible for separating areas of DNA was discovered. Used together, it is called the CRISPR-Cas9 system. The CRISPR-Cas9 system is definitely capable of benefiting the human race by slowly filtering out the unwanted or undesired traits or diseases in the gene pool that will hinder the human race by slowly spreading throughout the gene pool, if not filtered and avoided. Along with CRISPR-Cas9, there appears to be certain cells called stem cells, which are types of cells that are multi-functional and, naturally, have the power to develop into any type of cell that is necessary, depending on and given the situation. Furthermore, CRISPR-Cas9 and stem cell research are the absolute tipping point for breakthroughs in biology to come.
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CRISPR is a repeated pattern, most of the time found in prokaryotic organisms, that guides RNA to certain sequences of DNA. Cas9 is an enzyme that is in a position to cut DNA using a guide RNA. CRISPR-Cas9 will attach itself to a certain segment of DNA found by the guide RNA partnered along with the CRISPR-Cas9 enzyme. CRISPR-Cas9 literally cuts the DNA so that the other DNA can be inserted or so the DNA can heal itself leaving the harmful mutation or section of DNA behind. By using CRISPR-Cas9 and the natural technologies it provides to us, we can filter out many undesired traits or diseases that hinder our gene pool, especially those which cause certain fatalities or make life far near impossible for not only the victim of the disease or trait but the families of that individual person, too.
Many people have been incorporating CRISPR-Cas9 into their lives for nearly the past 10 years and have no knowledge of the technology or aspect it plays in their lives. CRISPR-Cas9 has been and can be used in many different ways; such as, the fact that it is used to enhance the shelf-life of many yogurts and cheeses that are sold to the public in commercial-sized quantities (Grens). The improved resistance of the cultures pertains to foreign bacteria and possible viruses. Not only does CRISPR-Cas9 improve the shelf-life of certain foods, but it also reduces the risk of getting people sick, which in turn — saves a lot of money.
Sicknesses like malaria are a global burden, but fear not, CRISPR-Cas9 can also be used to progressively eradicate the population of a few certain species of mosquitoes on the earth. Scientists have recently located a female infertility gene that will spread down to other female mosquitoes, rendering them infertile. CRISPR-Cas9 will latch itself on to the female infertility gene and then, with human effort will be transported to another female mosquitoes genes (Molteni). Over time, the population of harmful mosquitoes will become extinct, saving thousands — maybe even hundreds of thousands of people (Molteni). Although this may sound like a solid idea, the ethical side of the notion is not solid, at all. There seems to be many people that say that it’s outright wrong to eradicate an entire species of animal, no matter what situation it is under. Many other people disagree, bringing up the rhetoric that mosquitoes carry malaria and malaria kills thousands a day. Eradicating harmful mosquitoes has been discussed by multiple African leaders as of Monday 7 July 2018, with a project called “Zero Starts with Me” (“African Leaders Launch New, Continent-Wide Campaign for a Malaria-Free Africa, Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign empowers Africans to take a stand in the fight against the deadly disease”). The UN nearly unanimously decided against a moratorium that would ban gene drives on a few species of mosquitoes (Matthews). Right now, a group called Target Malaria, is working on a project similar to what had been earlier discussed (Matthews). Once the gene drive is released into the wild, thousands of lives will be saved, and the malaria threat will become less intimidating.
Now to the other key, stem cells, are an unspecialized cell that has the ability to form itself into any type of cell, given the situation that it is in. The earliest mention of stem cells dates back to 1868 in German biologist Ernst Haeckel’s papers with the German term “Stammzelle” (translates to “stem cell”) (“History of Stem Cell Research – a Timeline”). Stem cells have been used in countless procedures with the goal of curing once incurable diseases, such as sickle cell anemia.
According to the Fetal Treatment Center, sickle cell anemia is treatable using what is called “stem cell therapy” (UCSF Fetal Treatment Center). Sickle cell anemia is an inheritable disease that causes red blood cells to break down causing blood blockage and/or pain in the host’s body, and in even some rare cases — cause death. Using the modern technology that we have today and all of the acceptance of stem-cell therapy, infants can avoid the aggravatingly painful disease and avoid passing it down to their children. People who have already lived with the disease for an extended period of time can be cured of sickle cell anemia, eliminating a possibly infinite amount of pain. How stem cell therapy for sickle cell anemia works is by replacing the native cells in some persons body that produce red blood cells, these cells are called hematopoietic stem cells, with new cells. This leads to the termination of some persons body producing sickle cells, the cells that are produced by sickle cell anemia that causes the aggravating pain. Within the procedure, a doctor will begin to transfer healthy stem cells from a donors bone marrow to some persons body by an injection from an IV tube into one of some persons veins. When the stem cells are all inside of some persons body, they’ll head over to some persons native bone marrow and will commence creating healthy blood cells.
A majority of the people in the United States of America believe that stem cell research is morally acceptable. According to a Gallup news poll, out of an unspecified number of people, nearly 66% of people polled approve of stem cell research and believe that it’s morally acceptable, 29% of people polled did not approve and found it morally unacceptable, 2% of the people polled believed that it depended on the situation, and 3% of people polled had absolutely no opinion on it, whatsoever (“Stem Cell Research”). Gallup had recorded this survey over a lengthy span of 16 years, from 2002 until 2018.
Along with that, the numbers have started to differ greatly with acceptance in favor. Most likely, in the future, stem cells will be the most accepted way of treating diseases and abnormalities throughout the human body. Most people throughout European countries have really shown acceptance, so accepted to the point where there is even commercial stem-cell based treatment to regenerate damaged ocular system called Holoclar. After 20 years of studies, experiments, and trial, it was finally accepted in Europe (“Europe Approves Holoclar®, the First Stem Cell-Based Medicinal Product”).
Despite these positive views of stem cell research and treatment — There seems to be several flaws in the system. Stem cell therapy, according to Dr. Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., should be low cost and if not, virtually free (Interlandi). The FDA explicitly advises people to be very cautious when considering stem cell therapy for an ailment. The FDA also has the power to regulate the systems in which different types of stem cell therapies, treatments, enhancements, and et cetera, run through. They also advise customers of stem cell treatments to warn the FDA of adverse reactions they had experienced from the usage of the variety of stem cell treatments including for cancer treatments, the growth of malignant or even benign tumors, as malignant ones can be fatal and benign ones can be costly and hindering. Other advisories from the FDA contain asking the vendor of the stem cell if they have been reviewed and approved by the FDA for treatment and also to ask for an explanation from the vendor to what to the customer of the treatment doesn’t understand (Office of the Commissioner).
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Although stem-cell research has its negatives, many people have claimed that stem-cell treatments have thoroughly “improved their lives” (Punsky). A controlled study on stem-cell therapy effectiveness on arthritis, found that stem-cell therapy greatly improved the effects of arthritis on those affected with it. Even the placebos seemed to cause relief from pain, too. The two conclusions from the study that was conducted by Mayo Clinic, were that stem cell injections did work and provide pain relief and that it is possible that injections of anything can cause pain relief (Punsky).
Another benefit of stem cell research is that gay and lesbian couples will be in a position in which they are able to have biologically related children to both parents. They will also feel less alienated from society as time goes on and as stem cell babies become more common. Using haploid (contains only half of the information) embryonic stem cells, researchers in China were in a position of having the ability to successfully create healthy mice from two mothers that went on to have children of their own (Forster). The offspring also went on to have healthy babies, too. Although they did try creating offspring with two male mice and a surrogate mother, it did not work out nearly as well, and therefore, the babies died shortly after birth. The reason for this happening was due to the cause of imprints. Imprinting is the process of inheriting certain genes, one from the father and one from the mother. To create the mice offspring using two mothers, the scientists had to cut out a few imprints, using CRISPR-Cas9, but with the male mice and their offspring — the scientists had to cut out several imprints, again, using the CRISPR-Cas9 system. Even with all those imprints cut out of the male mice, the babies were still, born unhealthy, which led the scientists and their team to search for the hindering imprint and/or imprints that caused the hindrance in the health development of the mice which were born from two fathers and a surrogate mother (Forster).
Using this method may even be possible in humans, according to journalist, Julie Compton of NBC News. Referencing the experiment with creating mice offspring with two mothers and two fathers, the article discussed how same-sex couples, sometime in the future, will be in a position to have children with both of their parents’ DNA (Compton). In the second part of the article, Compton, discusses the social implications and the legal implications, in-depth, given that, in some states, the processes of having babies via donors is still uncertain in quite a few states (Compton). Using the method of biologically related same-sex parents, the courts will have no other choice than to assign legal parenthood to the same-sex couple, given that a problem arises related to custody.
CRISPR-Cas9 and stem cell research has provided so many groundbreakers and breakthroughs in the field of biology. As previously stated, people have been incorporating the CRISPR-Cas9 into their lives for the past 10 years with not even a trace of a clue. Yogurt and cheeses have been altered with the system. The CRISPR-cas9 system, in turn, saves many lives and inadvertently saves everyone involved in the business so much money. We’ve found a cure for a once-incurable disease called sickle cell anemia, which is agonizingly painful and carried down through generations. Not to mention, we’ve also found a way to progressively eradicate an entire population of malaria-carrying mosquitoes that currently kill thousands a day. Along with that, we’ve even found a way to produce offspring from biologically same sex parents in mice. What was once thought of as science fiction is becoming non-fiction. In order for us, as humans, to evolve, we need to take advantage of what CRISPR-Cas9 research and stem cell research has to offer.
- “African Leaders Launch New, Continent-Wide Campaign for a Malaria-Free Africa Zero Malaria Starts with Me Campaign Empowers Africans to Take a Stand in the Fight against the Deadly Disease.” Vision and Mission | African Union, 7 July 2018, au.int/en/pressreleases/20180707/african-leaders-launch-new-continent-wide-campaign-malaria-free-africa-zero.
- Compton, Julie. “Could Same-Sex Couples Soon Conceive a Child with Both Their DNA?” NBCNews.com, NBCOut News, Jan 12 2018. www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/could-same-sex-couples-soon-conceive-child-both-their-dna-n836876.
- “Europe Approves Holoclar®, the First Stem Cell-Based Medicinal Product.” Eurostemcell, 24 Nov. 2016, www.eurostemcell.org/story/europe-approves-holoclar-first-stem-cell-based-
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- Grens, Kerry. “There’s CRISPR in Your Yogurt.” Recent Articles | Air Pollution | The Scientist Magazine®, The Scientist Magazine, 1 Jan 2015. www.the-scientist.com/notebook/theres-crispr-in-your-yogurt-36142.
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- Matthews, Dylan. “Gene Drives Could End Malaria. And They Just Escaped a UN Ban.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 7 Dec. 2018, www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/12/7/18126123/gene-drive-malaria-convention-biological-diversity.
- Molteni, Megan. “Everything You Need to Know About Crispr Gene Editing.” Wired, Conde Nast, 26 Apr. 2018, www.wired.com/story/what-is-crispr-gene-editing/. Accessed 19 Dec 2018.
- Molteni, Megan. “Here’s the Plan to End Malaria With Crispr-Edited Mosquitoes.” Wired, Conde Nast, 25 Sept. 2018, www.wired.com/story/heres-the-plan-to-end-malaria-with-crispr-edited-mosquitoes/.
- Office of the Commissioner. “Consumer Updates – FDA Warns About Stem Cell Therapies.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, 16 Nov. 2017, www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm286155.htm. Accessed 19 Dec 2018.
- Punsky, Kevin. “Mayo Clinic Finds Surprising Results on First-Ever Test of Stem Cell Therapy to Treat Arthritis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Dec. 2016, newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-finds-surprising-results-on-first-ever-test-of-stem-cell-therapy-to-treat-arthritis/.
- “Sickle Cell Disease (Sickle Cell Anemia) – Causes & Types.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-sickle-cell-disease.Gallup, Inc.
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- “UCSF Fetal Treatment Center.” Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) | UCSF Fetal Treatment Center, fetus.ucsf.edu/stem-cells. Accessed 19 Dec 2018.
 Scientist will insert DNA encoded with bits of information that eventually end up in a sequence of images that repeat themselves over again into E. Coli.
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