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Talk To Focus On The Ethics Of Creating Inheritable Genetic Modifications

June 5, 2018 1:31 p.m.

Is It Ethical To Genetically Engineer Desired Genes In Mice?


Kim Cooper, assistant professor in cell and developmental biology, UC San Diego

Related Story: Talk To Focus On The Ethics Of Creating Inheritable Genetic Modifications


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

>>> It is a major breakthrough for medical research and ethical dilemma to keep you up at night. Genetic researchers say they are working to reduce desired gene modifications in rodents that can be inherited. Those alterations would help researchers have better access to lab animals that make complex human diseases. The plans to alter rodents in the wild and the larger issue of where gene modifications may be headed is causing controversy. It is the subject of tomorrow's discussion at the center for ethics and science and technology. Joining me is Kim Cooper. Assistant professor in the cell and developmental biology section of UC San Diego's biological sciences division. Welcome to the program, Kim Cooper. What has changed to make this kind of gene modification possible? What technology is being used?
>> It is the field of crisper caste 19 editing that has transformed biological sciences. What crisper caste nine is a system is a -- that is developed by microbes. It is made of two components of protein that is capable of cutting pieces of DNA. That it works with a guide RNA and that guide RNA gives specificity to the protein so that you can direct it to go to a very specific place in the genome.

>>> Is that change passed on to an entire species through normal reproduction ?
>> I have to give you background on basic genetics. Every animal has two copies of every gene. There is copy A and copy be. So using this crisper technology, you could put machinery in a copy a that can cut copy be in the not cut can get repaired from copy A so that it replaces copy B. So then you end up with two versions of copy A and get rid of copy B Mac. What that means is in the next generation, instead of the random inheritance of copy A or copy B Mac, to 50% of the offspring, all of the offspring will get the copy A because it selfishly replace itself instead of copy B Mac.

>>> There is no chance that the copy B Mac could be transfer because it doesn't exist anymore.

>>> Exactly.

>>> What would be some of the reasons we would want to genetically modify a species of rodents?
>> There are so many reasons why you want to do this in a laboratory. My study is evolutionary biology. We study is a model a rodent called a teacher boa. It is very different from a mouse. We want to know how the genome of that species changed from its mouselike ancestor to make something so different. The reality of that is that evolution involves many changes throughout a genome. If you want to try to reconstruct the genetics of evolution, you have to make lots of changes in the genome. To give you an example, if you want to take three sites in the genome and make an animal that has two desired copies at three sites in the genome, you need 143 mice to have a 90% probability that one of them is what you want it to be. That is not true just for evolutionary biology, it is also true in modeling complex human diseases, there are lots and lots of diseases that involve changes in multiple sites in the genome. This would be revolutionary for biomedical sciences.

>>> Because you know that every one of the offspring will be exactly what you want.

>>> Exactly.

>>> Crispin has been associated with unintended changes in genes. What types of protocols are in place to ensure that these unintended changes don't take place?
>> We are trying to learn a lot more about how the machinery works. And to improve the target specificity so that these unintended changes in other places of the genome have a far less likelihood of occurring. I also have colleagues who are working on genetic tricks, tools, can manipulate the system. If I gene guard get started and scientists recognize it is something we want to stop, we can follow the gene drive as something that will be eliminated from the population.

>>> It is not available to turn the gene drives off yet ? speak not yet. But we are also not at the point where we are ready to release it into the wild to begin with. This technology was introduced in insects to stop the spread of diseases like the cup. Has that been successful? Speaking in other test, they have worked on this with fruit flies as a model and mosquitoes. I want to make it clear that what we are trying to do is it does not have anything to do with the wild relief of rodents. My research is focused on how this is best used in a laboratory model system for basic research and biomedical research because of the amazing applications we have for this. Instead, the approach we have separates that caste nine protein from the guide are in a genetically so you have to put together multiple animals to get what you want to occur. It cannot happen on its own. It is dependent on a researcher putting together particular animals.

>>> Do you have opinions on what it might mean to release genetically modified rodents or insects into the wild?
>> I think every person and scientists has an opinion on this. This is something I look forward to discussing with the public to open up a dialogue to learn more about the science and have our own opinions and the public have their opinions and that dialogue will inform where we move forward. When it comes to insects, Missy -- mosquito borne diseases kill over 1 million people in the world each year. Rodents harbored disease but what most people discuss about rodents is trying to control a species population. That is not research I am interested in pursuing. I have opinions on it that I would love to discuss openly with the public.

>>> I was speaking with Kim Cooper assistant professor with the developmental elegy section with the UC San Diego biological science division. She will discuss genetic biological science. She will be talking tomorrow from 5 PM until 7 PM and Balboa Park.