20th Anniversary: Can Gene-Sequencing End Global Poverty

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SAN JOSE, California — The month of February in 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the human genome. The study of genomics has contributed to and greatly advanced lifestyle and medicine on a global scale. As scientists explore gene-sequencing, their findings support the alleviation of global poverty. Gene modification puts forth a solution that can improve food production. Thus, it has the potential to help the roughly 800 million people that do not get enough food to lead a healthy life.

Advancing Medical Treatments

The HGP (human genome project) collected the DNA of various people to get an average sequence. With this, scientists have been able to discover new methods of treating and diagnosing genetic disorders. These medical advancements affect concerns such as genetic conditions and cancer therapies.

  1. Genetic Disorders – Doctors can declare risks for family members and assess the cause for the condition by sequencing genes that are affected by disorders such as CMT disease (Charcot Marie Tooth). An additional example is gene therapy for individuals with cystic fibrosis. The disorder results in two malfunctioning alleles on an affected individual’s chromosome 7. Geneticists hope to replace those with properly functioning alleles in the lung cells and eliminate the process of undergoing a lung transplant.
  2. Targeted Cancer Therapy – Through comparing the sequencing of cancer cell DNA to the HGP, scientists and doctors can detect which genes have mutated and caused illness. As a result, this greatly aids them in the process of developing medicine. An example of this is when scientists produced a monoclonal antibody for certain breast cancers with mutations. This treatment has proven to be successful and attacks the respective antigen accordingly.

Scientists hope to expand their collection of DNA sequencing to further predict, prevent and protect more people each day from deadly diseases.

Crop Evolution

On a global scale, the total number of children’s deaths can be cut by half with access to nutritious food. Nutrient-rich, drought-resistant, pest-resistant and highly productive, genetically modified crop varieties could be the food of the future. Gene-sequencing might be one way to accomplish this.

One BioTech company, Calyxt, did just that. Calyxt has carried out gene modification on potatoes by disabling a single sugar-promoting gene. As a result, the shelf life is improved and the production of cancer-promoting agents in fried potatoes significantly decreases. Although there is some debate about the safety of these products. Some geneticists put forth the idea that introducing these improvements to the developing world, which mainly relies on staple crops (corn, rice, potatoes), will assist with the current hunger crisis.

Environmental Benefits

Through the use of gene-editing technique, CRISPR, scientists have shown that certain species of “plants, algae, and cyanobacteria naturally turn carbon dioxide and sunlight into byproducts.” CRISPR when applied to specific bacteria, can grow while producing biofuels thereby making it a viable alternative.

Besides the hope of making biofuels easily accessible, CRISPR can make compounds in petroleum-based products easier to extract. By using this technology, specific types of bacteria can be used to replace plastics that are harmful to the environment.

Gene-sequencing technology advancements can impact those affected by poverty in a positive way by supporting the growth, transportation, and resources needed to grow crops. To sum up, techniques like CRISPR’s engineering continue to make breakthroughs for the environment and the medical field.

Meghana Nagendra
Photo: Flickr

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