Human bodies can be ‘re-coded’ to eliminate disease
In an absolutely astonishing piece of scientific discovery, researchers in China have reportedly successfully reprogrammed human DNA to remove a disease in a world first.
Originally reported by The BBC, a team at Sun Yat-sen University successfully used a technique called base editing in order to change just one error in the three billion ‘letters’ of genetic code that makes a human being.
The team created some lab made embryos in order to conduct the experiment, in which they then edited the DNA and removed the disease beta-thalassemia. It is thought that the success of the experiment may lead to the approach being adopted to cure a wide variety of diseases.
Base editing, as it is known, is the practice of altering the fundamental building blocks of DNA: the four bases adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. In common scientific discourse they are referred to simply by their initials A, C, G and T.
Similarly to computers, the human body is constructed using DNA which is then constructed using billions of different combinations of A, C, G and T. The disease that the team eradicated, beta-thalassemia, is a life threatening blood disorder and is caused by a single error in the billions of lines of A, C, G and T code.
Junjiu Huang, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: "We are the first to demonstrate the feasibility of curing genetic disease in human embryos by base editor system."
When explaining the practice of base editing to a BBC journalist, one of the scientists described the process as an advance on a form of gene-editing known as Crispr, that is already revolutionising science.
Crispr breaks DNA. When the body tries to repair the break, it deactivates a set of instructions called a gene. It is also an opportunity to insert new genetic information.
The practices have proven to be thought provoking and have caused debate among philosophers and ethics professors as to how far scientists should go in manipulating human DNA. It’s hard to find any reasonable argument that scientists shouldn’t cure diseases with the practice and once these methods are perfected we may well see a world in the next century where almost all disease is eradicated by editing our very building blocks.
In a scary but exciting twist, we may be the first generation to live in a world without disease. A world which requires no cure to disease as scientists and doctors are able to go and edit our very DNA in order to keep us alive.