One of the leading genetics researchers in the world, George Church, thinks we’re not far from being able to use a new gene editing technology — called the “biggest biotech discovery of the century” by the MIT Tech Review — to give ourselves powerful versions of genes that will keep us healthy and strong well into old age.
Think about it — who wouldn’t want gene variants that made bones extra strong, prevented bad body odor, and made Alzheimer’s and cancer incredibly unlikely?
In an interview with the scientist Paul Knoepfler, Church refers to such “rare protective variants of large impact,” which exist naturally — but only in a few people. The new gene editing technology, CRISPR, could theoretically go into your genetic code and replace less beneficial genes with new ones.This technology is still far from perfect now: it has a fairly inaccurate find-and-replace genetic code function at the moment, working only about 20% of time.
Still, CRISPR is a new discovery and scientists are advancing our ability to use it every day. Researchers are expected to publish more than 1,100 papers on CRISPR just this year.
1. A variant that codes for extra-strong bones (LRP5 G171V/+).
2. A variant that codes for lean muscles (MSTN).
3. A variant that makes people less sensitive to pain — something that could be dangerous, as pain can be a useful warning signal, but may be helpful in some contexts (SCN9A).
4. A variant that’s associated with low odor production (ABCC11).
5. A variant that makes people more resistant to viruses (CCR5, FUT2).
6. A variant that’s connected to a low risk of coronary disease (PCSK9).
7. A variant that’s associated with a low risk of Alzheimer’s disease (APP A673T/+).
8. A variant that’s associated with a low cancer risk (GHR, GH).
9. A variant that’s associated with a low risk of type 2 diabetes (SLC30A8).
10. A variant that’s associated with a low risk of type 1 diabetes (IFIH1 E627X/+).
This era of selectively editing our genomes isn’t here yet, but it’s something that could have huge health implications — allowing people to live longer lives of better quality.
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