What’s genome engineering?
The principle of genome engineering is simple: it involves modifying the genetic code of an individual or species for the purposes of understanding the way it works, producing of useful proteins or treating a disease. Genetics has demonstrated the link between the physical attributes of species and their genes, and thereby shown how particular genes are implicated in certain diseases or attributes. Genome engineering enables species’ genes to be modified in order to change certain attributes, to rectify an error, or to add a new trait of physiological or economic interest. This approach is not new: cross-breeding different plants or selecting the best animals for reproduction is based on the same principle. The aim is to improve species by giving them the best possible attributes – drought tolerance or pest resistance for crops, for example. The targeted approach of genome engineering is predictable, more reliable and more effective than earlier techniques. Knowledge of the sequence and location of the genes of living beings is therefore constantly improving, even though the workings of these genes are still not fully known. Our understanding in this field allows us to manipulate genes directly.
There are three possible strategies to do this:
• Insertion is used to add a new attribute to the genome. For example in drug discovery, or in order to overcome a genetic defect like hemophilia.
• Correction is used to replace an existing defective sequence (which generally impacts the gene’s functions) by a functional sequence. For example, to treat a serious genetic disease such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
• Inactivation is used to prevent the expression of a gene. This approach can be used to treat persistent viral infections such as AIDS or herpes.