The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California, Berkeley (UC) currently find themselves involved in a legal squabble over patent for genome modifying tool, CRISPR-cas9.
What just years ago seemed to belong to the realm of science fiction has quickly caught ground in reality. Frontrunners of genome editing have been working relentlessly to develop increasingly performing tools that have the capacity to bring invaluable output in science.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and the associated protein 9 (CRISPR-cas9) is a new tool that promises to break the present boundaries of medicine.
Molecular biology and genome engineering have much to gain from CRISPR. The field of genome engineering has advanced rapidly, with the results of the first attempt to modify a living human embryo using the CRISPR-cas9 tool published in April in the Protein&Cell journal.
What CRISPR brings to the table as a great advantage is, alongside high performance, a competitive affordability on the market.
Initially brought in the limelight as an adaptive system in bacteria, CRISPR-cas9 was further developed for targeting and editing genomes. The genome is targeted; an enzyme is released to cut the genome’s DNA sequence, breaking its structure. Following this process, a new gene may be introduced.
Other possibilities of editing the genome are changing the existing sequence or deleting the stretch of genomic DNA. The entire process results in permanently modification of an organism’s genome. Next generation are guaranteed to carry the edited sequence.
At this point, CRISPR-cas9 opened Pandora’s Box in the form of legal patent row between MIT and UC Berkeley. At the on-set, the patent for this tool was given to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley contested the decision of the United States Patent and Trademark Office on ground of UC Berkeley scientists having discovered and developed CRISPR-cas9. Currently, the Office is re-evaluating the decision and a final answer is still expected.
The broad portfolio of applications for the genome editing tool includes HIV, cystic fibrosis, autism, muscular dystrophy, drug discovery and studies and engineering of T cells which are part of our immune system, but modified accordingly they can recognize and attack specific cancer types.
Of course, when genome editing is concerned, the public opprobrium may be triggered. Questions of ethics and morality have been asked once more in relation to CRISPR. Yet, the broad applications that the genome targeting and editing tool can have in saving and enhancing human lives should soon be accepted as invaluable.
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