Human gene editing has been a hot subject lately, after Chinese researcher He Jiankui admitted to edit the genes of two babies. While his actions were unethical, many fear that they were risky as well. That is because CRISPR edits have results that are hard to anticipate. However, scientists might change that in the close future.
A paper which was published in the Molecular Cell journal on Thursday revealed that there appear to be some simple rules behind these edits:
“The effects of CRISPR were thought to be unpredictable and seemingly random,” Francis Crick Institute researcher Paola Scaffidi said in a news release, “but by analysing hundreds of edits we were shocked to find that there are actually simple, predictable patterns behind it all.”
Multiple rules were discovered. For example, editing becomes more efficient when scientists open up the DNA using compounds. Researchers also discovered that if a specific genetic letter is in certain place, it is more likely to have imprecise deletions when it comes to the edit.
“We hadn’t previously appreciated the significance of DNA openness in determining the efficiency of CRISPR genome editing,” researcher Josep Monserrat said. “This could be another factor to consider when aiming to edit a gene in a specific way.”
These discoveries could make CRISPR edits safer in the future. Until now it almost impossible to predict the results, and this is one of the reasons why He’s experiment was dangerous. However, CRISPR could be controlled better by applying these rules, which means that the scientific community will continue to evolve.
“Until now, editing genes with CRISPR has involved a lot of guesswork, frustration, and trial and error,” Scaffidi said, later adding, “This will fundamentally change the way we use CRISPR, allowing us to study gene function with greater precision and significantly accelerating our science.”