Bugs Inspire Gene Therapy

"Peacock butterfly (inachis io) 2" by Charlesjsharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peacock_butterfly_(inachis_io)_2.jpg#/media/File:Peacock_butterfly_(inachis_io)_2.jpg

“Peacock butterfly (inachis io) 2” by Charlesjsharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Inspiration in the biotech industry can come from amazing places and amount to unimaginable discoveries. There is one on the horizon that is worth mentioning on a science fiction author blog like mine.

Gene therapy is often all about proteins. Some hereditary diseases leave people lacking genes that produce protiens necessary for a normal life. With the CRSPR and Cas9 therapies I wrote about last week, we are closer to being able to insert a functioning gene into adult cells to replace a broken or missing one.

Yet there are still problems. What happens when the inserted gene accidentally ends up in the wrong place or is too active once implanted and it causes a tumor?

This is where bugs come in. As insects grow, they shed their old exoskeletons by molting. When it’s time to molt, and only when it’s time to molt, a hormone becomes active that starts the process. Without the hormone, there is no molting.

Creating a human equivalent means genes can be implanted with a receptor that becomes active only in the presence of a human version of the bug hormone, which would be administered via medication.

This essentially equals being able to turn genes off or on at will. It also means that if the genes you need are inserted into your liver  the medication will trigger only those genes. A big improvement over the clumsy medications of today that can poison unintended parts of the body and cause side effects. There are still some difficulties to work out, but remote control genes, may be in our future.

It’s good news for people with genetic disorders and it’s good news for science fiction authors who’ll be able to use the technology in their plots too.

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