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How genome editing works

Genome editing (sometimes also called gene editing) hadn’t even been invented when the EU GMO directive came into force. Unlike standard genetic modification, which introduces DNA from another species, genome editing involves the deliberate modification of a specific sequence of DNA in a living cell. 

It uses particular proteins (one of these is known as CRISPR) to perform a “find-and-replace” function on chosen genes. Researchers have already started using it in mice, for example to inactivate the defective gene sequence that causes Huntington’s disease, which is currently incurable – it can’t even be slowed down – and always fatal. 

While human trials are some years off – researchers and regulators will want to be confident that the technique will work safely and effectively in people with Huntington’s – genome editing offers a real prospect of a simple one-dose treatment for people otherwise condemned to an early death. Cystic fibrosis is another disease that scientists think they will be able to cure with genome editing.

Agricultural researchers are also excited by the potential of genome editing to provide greater crop yields to feed a growing population without adding to stress on the environment.

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