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Since its inception three years ago, a gene editing technology that allows us to make precise edits in genomes of living things, known as CRISPR, has had a revolutionary impact on biotechnology.
A dawn of disease resistant crops, animals and even healthier humans seems to be within reach, as CRISPR could soon become a better tool to change properties of plants and animals than existing biotechnologies..
It all started when molecular biologists discovered unusual, repetitive DNA sequences in common bacteria such as E. coli, and realised that the sequences contained DNA from viruses.
The real breakthrough came when they understood that the mysterious virus’ DNA tucked away in the bacteria’s genome was in fact an immunological defence mechanism.
By matching the DNA of the infective virus with the sequences found in its own genome, the host cell is able to recognise the enemy and fight it off more effectively than with a generic immunological response.
When researchers figured out that the same process could be used to engineer organisms fast and cheaply the revolution began. They are now able to leverage the power of this mechanism to target and remove the ‘bad genes’, and use it to treat genetic conditions or edit the genome of crops and animals. CRISPR is now poised to have an impact on human health, food security and development.
In this month’s podcast, we investigate how it could play a decisive role in the battle against malaria.
We then discover how the humanitarian system is changing to respond to new types of crises.
A new report draws lessons from recent emergencies, such as West Africa’s Ebola outbreak and the Syrian armed conflict, on how to respond to longer, more brutal crises that tend to displace a larger number of people than in the past.
Finally, we learn how the third Sustainable Development Goal, aimed at ensuring healthy lives for all, could be hindered by corruption in public health and in the pharmaceutical sector. James Sale, programme manager at Transparency International, an NGO that monitors and publicizes corporate and political corruption in international development, tells SciDev.Net how this challenge can be tackled.
This month’s reporters are:
Imogen Mathers: @ImogenMathers
Kevin Pollock: @KPstraightupG