A new gene-editing technology called “prime editing” has the potential to correct up to 89 percent of genetic defects, according to research published Monday in the journal Nature.
CNN reported that the technique was developed by scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and could be applied to defects that cause diseases such as sickle-cell anemia.
Building on the existing CRISPR gene editing, prime editing is more precise and versatile, the news outlet said, in that researchers say it "directly writes new genetic information into a specified DNA site.”
The CRISPR-Cas9 technique involves using Cas9, which CNN noted is a modified protein, as a pair of scissors, targeting genes in a specific location to snip parts of a DNA sequence.
Prime editing takes this method one step further by using a different protein — one that can generate new DNA — to transfer an edited DNA sequence into the strand, thereby allowing scientists “to search and replace entire sections of DNA strands, all without disruptive breaks or donor DNA.”
"With prime editing, we can now directly correct the sickle-cell anemia mutation back to the normal sequence and remove the four extra DNA bases that cause Tay Sachs disease, without cutting DNA entirely or needing DNA templates," said David Liu, one of the authors of the study.
Though such technological advances hold the possibility of curing numerous physical maladies that humans face, some researchers fear gene editing “could open the door to human embryos being manipulated for nontherapeutic reasons, or that it could create unintended mutations and new diseases.”