Nipam, Arnaud, and Erin are “The Wizards” in Discover Magazine’s recent article on the breakthrough gene-editing technology CRISPR. Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall, but here’s a few highlights from us:
The fact is that any creature’s DNA can be altered permanently — it’s happening right now in the UC Berkeley lab of Nipam Patel. A developmental biologist, Patel edits the genomes of “non-traditional model species,” including butterflies and crustaceans. By turning genes off in embryos, Patel and his team have gained insights into developmental pathways, such as how a butterfly grows distinctive wing patterns.
Asked whether the power they wielded through Crispr-Cas9 gave them pause, Jarvis offers the standard justification: “We’re working to understand genetic processes. It adds to the basic science, so we can understand more about ourselves.”
Martin says, “It’s the tool to modify nature. But when do we stop engineering nature? It’s kind of like Frankenstein.”
The discussion turned to gene drives, so far just a concept. A mutation could be implanted in a critical mass of mosquitoes or rodents or some other pest, and the mutation would spread through the population for good or for ill. Would biologists do the right thing? And the thing they thought was right — would it work as planned?
“I hope I’m a good wizard,” says Martin. “I’m afraid of the magic, though.”