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UFMG hosts symposium on genome editing

About seven year ago the development of the CRISPR technique, also known as CRISPR-Cas9, has revolutionized the genetic field. Because it is extremely efficient, of fast application and low cost, it became widely used by scientists to edit genes of microorganisms, plants, animals or even humans including genome modification in germ cells and human embryos. The use of CRISPR technique, however, despite its enormous potential, faces ethical and biosafety considerations, as there are still not enough studies about the impact of gene editing for the future generations or if the use of the technique can generate harmful genetic mutations to the life in the planet.

Debates around the CRISPR will be the focus of Symposium Genome Editing with CRISPR: Advances for human health and its ethical and regulatory implications, event that will be hold on July 11 2019, on Main Auditorium of Engineering School, of UFMG from 13 to 18 PM.

Genome editing: potentialities and controversies
Two round tables will guide the debate about the recent advances around genome editing, the promises and controversies of genetic manipulation in humans and embryos, and the ethical limits and legal questions related to this field of research. The event will be open to the public and registrations for participation in the symposium should be made upon completion of an electronic form. Participation certificates will be issued to participants.

Organizer of the event, Professor Santuza Maria Ribeiro Teixeira from the Biochemistry and Immunology Department at UFMG, points out that “it is hoped that the discussions generated at the symposium could disseminate the knowledge about this new and promising technology among the UFMG community showing the benefits that it can bring to society and yet contribute to the debate about ethical and legal questions that must be associated to its use”. In the event discussions with specialists of different areas of knowledge are planned, not only from Biomedical area, but also from Philosophy and Law.

What is CRISPR?
The CRISPR-Cas9 technique was based on a natural system of genome modification on bacteria. Scientists discovered that bacteria capture DNA fragments of invaders virus and inserts them in the middle of DNA sequences known as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). Working as memory bank CRISPR matrices enable bacteria to “remember” the virus that infected them in the past. If the virus attack again the bacteria produce RNA molecules – from CRISPR sequences – that can bind with extreme precision to specific sequences of the DNA of the invader virus serving as a guide for an enzyme called Cas9 nuclease located inside the bacteria to cut the virus DNA at specific points preventing the virus replication.

By adapting the CRISPR-Cas9 machinery to other cells, scientists found a way to “cut” genes in specific areas of genome of any organism with high precision and efficiency. This new technique has several advantages over “old” methods of genetic manipulation that allow the a much faster development of genetically improved plants, the replacement of genes for the treatment of several human diseases including the elimination of HIV virus. On the other hand, scientists from the most diverse areas have drawn the attention to the urgent need for regulation and ethical responsibility in this new era of medical research.