Development of a technique used on pig zygotes (unborn pigs) has led to making the crazy possibilities of genetic modification an actual possibility. ‘Sleeping Beauty’ has now opened the door of modelling human genes and diseases, as well as preventing and curing them, and even the possibility of transplanting parts of animals into humans!
Scientists in Germany have developed a technique called the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ transposon, which uses modified pig chromosomes to change the DNA of pig zygotes (very small unborn pigs, only a couple of cells big). The experiment only changed the pigs so they glowed in the dark (kind of- they produced a dye that glows when UV light is shone on them), but the implications are HUGE!
If this technique were to be perfected and used on humans, there are some advantages to using this for gene therapy. It is an infection-free way to treat or prevent various diseases through this technique, and for life.
Pigs are used to model human bodies as they are actually quite similar when it comes to their gene makeup. Pigs are usually used experimentally to techniques that could one day be used on humans, especially when testing on humans is too unethical and/or dangerous at this level of initial testing. We can’t have genetically modified superheros walking around, can we?
What Does This Mean for Genetic Modification?
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that we will all be soon genetically changed to be different. Firstly, this technique will need to be further developed to even be considered to be used on humans. However, this could be used in the future to better model human genetic diseases, with the possibility of prevention. Also, if developed in a certain way, “Sleeping Beauty” could be used to produce animals with organs that could be transplanted into humans, relieving the pressures of organ donation.
Secondly, there is still a lot of opposition against genetically modifying both animals and humans, as well as xenotransplantation (transplanting animal organs into humans). Despite this, scientists and experts state that when further developed, genetic engineering will be safer than current methods of treatment, as well as increasing people’s chances of survival when needing a transplant, because geneticists will be able to produce organs specifically designed for each patient, dramatically reducing the chance of organ rejection (where the body actively rejects the transplanted organ).
Finally, the cost of genetic modification experimentation is still very high, making it almost impossible for humans to get this therapy for at least a decade.
Regardless, this is still a great advancement for the development of the possibility of genetic engineering.