What are genetic scissors?

©EBS 과학다큐 비욘드

Genetic scissors are artificial proteins programmed to target a specific sequence in a genome and snip the DNA double-helix in two. They work like a pair of scissors snipping paper, hence the name. Once the target DNA strand is cut off, the genetic scissors and the cut-off strand disappear, and the amended DAN strand repairs itself. There are also almost no side effects reported. This technology is widely employed in the livestock industry and agriculture. In some countries where the technology is approved for medical purposes, the technology is used to treat diseases. Recently, a research team in Korea is leading a project using the technology to treat coronavirus patients. They cut the RNA of the coronavirus inside the patient's lungs and stop the viral RNA amplification. What kind of changes will the gene-editing tools bring about across industries and eventually to mankind?

Super Muscly Pigs

In 2005, a team of scientists from Korea and China created genetically engineered 'super muscly pigs' with 20% higher muscle mass than regular pigs. These super muscly pigs were created by cutting off the myostatin gene that inhibits muscle growth with genetic scissors. To perform this gene editing, the scientists cut off the myostatin gene in an egg cell of a pig and fertilized it. The fertilized egg is implanted in the womb of a female pig, and three months later, super muscly pigs are born. These pigs have more meat and less fat.

Save the Banana

Gene editing is also used in studies to save bananas from disappearing from supermarket aisles. The banana, one of the world's most consumed crops, is on the brink of extinction due to a toxic fungus that dries up the banana and kills the plant. Experts say to solve this problem, developing a disease-resistant banana variety is more effective than fighting against the noxious fungus. Gene editing can be a crucial part of the solution as bananas we eat are asexually reproduced. Scientists are trying to identify the fungus-resistant gene in the banana and use genetic scissors to modify the genes in the banana variant that are susceptible to fungus attacks.

The story continues in the next blog post.


Sources:
EBS 과학 다큐 ‘비욘드’의 ‘유전자 가위, 신의 도구인가’ 편