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Bill Gates says it would be a ‘tragedy’ to pass up a controversial gene-editing tool that can fight diseases and keep people from starving


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Bill Gates is advocating for the use of genetic editing tools like CRISPR.
CRISPR allows scientists to edit DNA, eliminating undesirable genes and potentially swapping in preferable alternatives.
Gates thinks we could use genetic editing to make livestock and crops more sustainable and to eliminate malaria-causing mosquitoes.

The ability to rewrite the genetic code for life is a powerful one.

In the past few years, scientists have revolutionized our ability to do so with the discovery and refinement of a molecular tool called CRISPR that allows us to edit sections of DNA. This tool can snip specific parts of genetic code out and replace them with new segments, eliminating diseases or giving creatures whole new traits.

While it was possible to edit DNA before CRISPR’s discovery, this tool allows us to do so far more accurately and cheaply than ever before.

In a recent essay published in Foreign Affairs, Bill Gates described some of the ways genetic editing technologies have the potential to transform the world. Since the 1990s, he wrote, the world has made significant progress toward ending child mortality, fighting disease and hunger, and raising people out of poverty.

But there’s still a long way to go.

“[I]f the world is to continue the remarkable progress of the past few decades, it is vital that scientists, subject to safety and ethics guidelines, be encouraged to continue taking advantage of such promising tools as CRISPR,” Gates wrote.

Gates has long been supportive of using genetic editing tools. He was one of the early investors in Editas Medicine, one of the first companies to start trying to use CRISPR to eliminate human diseases. Gates Foundation researchers have worked for nearly a decade on ways to use genetic editing to improve crops and to wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

In this latest essay, Gates lays out exactly where he thinks gene editing could have the biggest impact right now.

Feeding the world

One of the first places that many experts think people will encounter life forms with edited DNA is in the world of agriculture.

Editing the genes of a plant or animal doesn’t involve adding in genes from other creatures, like some forms of genetic modification. (Genetically modified organisms are still considered safe by most scientists — and Gates supports those, too.) But it’s possible to change organisms in powerful ways using genetic editing.

As Gates explained, researchers are studying ways to modify the genes of livestock animals like tropical cows, which normally don’t produce much milk, to make them produce milk more like dairy cows. Scientists also trying to see if they can make dairy cattle more resilient in hot weather, something essential in a warming world. Researchers have already figured out how to edit the genetic code of cows to remove their horns using a similar sort of modification.

Editing the genes of crops could also make it easier for them to survive hot or arid conditions, provide more nutrients, and require less water to thrive. These are the sorts of modifications that could be essential …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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