Saturday, June 6, 2015

CRISPR and Risks

In a piece in Nature the author states:

By and large, researchers see these gaps as a minor price to pay for a powerful technique. But Doudna has begun to have more serious concerns about safety. Her worries began at a meeting in 2014, when she saw a postdoc present work in which a virus was engineered to carry the CRISPR components into mice. The mice breathed in the virus, allowing the CRISPR system to engineer mutations and create a model for human lung cancer. Doudna got a chill; a minor mistake in the design of the guide RNA could result in a CRISPR that worked in human lungs as well. “It seemed incredibly scary that you might have students who were working with such a thing,” she says. “It's important for people to appreciate what this technology can do.”

 Indeed this presents a rather risky tool. Cheap, easy to get and with the right smarts one can target a specific person.

1. Cas9 can be programmed as well so the cells reproduce with Cas9..

2. sgRNA can do two things. Obviously cut a specific location but if we have a specific person's DNA we can program it for a specific person and specific cut.

3. We can then induce say a malignancy by just inhaling a virus which writes this in the target. Moreover we can do the same say with pollen by transcribing this into pollen.

Whether we target a person or mass attacks this can be a easily weaponized mechanism. Doudna is right, but she may have just seen some of the horrors! One the one hand this is a magnificent tool, on the other and in the wrong hands one should be wary.

This is especially the case since we have essentially opened our bio labs to anyone coming here. If one thinks cyber terror is a problem, just wait!