5 Genetic Technologies That Are Currently Being Researched

Goats producing cancer drugs, Storing data in living DNA and more.

5 Genetic Technologies That Are Currently Being Researched

Goats Producing Cancer Drugs

In a groundbreaking development, scientists in New Zealand have genetically engineered goats to produce cancer drugs in their milk. The goats are specifically modified to produce cetuximab, a medication used to treat colon and lung cancer. The current cost of cetuximab can reach up to $13,000 a month without insurance. The scientists hope that this innovative method of production will reduce the cost, making the drug more accessible. The production of cetuximab is usually expensive due to its complex chemical structure. However, these genetically modified goats provide a more economical way to mass-produce cetuximab, as explained by Götz Laible, the lead researcher at New Zealand’s AgResearch institute.

Storing Data in Living DNA

Scientists in New York have devised a novel method of data storage that uses gene editing to store data in the DNA of live bacteria. In 2021, researchers at Colombia University demonstrated that live E. coli cells could store up to 72 bits of data. They were even able to encode a simple message, “Hello world!”, into the DNA of an E. coli cell. DNA is surprisingly well-suited to data storage, with a single strand of DNA potentially holding the equivalent of ten feature-length movies. However, DNA data storage is still in its early stages and is unlikely to become mainstream anytime soon.

Extending the Lifespan of Mice

At Harvard University, scientists have used gene editing to extend the lifespan of mice suffering from a terminal condition, more than doubling their life expectancy. The mice were given progeria, a rare disease that causes premature aging in children. The Harvard team is developing a technique to alter the fundamental coding of the DNA of progeria sufferers. This technique was trialed on the terminally ill mice, significantly improving their lifespan. The findings could potentially lead to an effective treatment for progeria and similar genetic conditions.

Enhancing Vision with Gene Therapy

A form of gene therapy for sight loss has been discovered that, when injected into one eye, improves vision in both eyes. The genes travel from the injected eye to the untreated eye, a discovery that has left eye specialists intrigued. The therapy was tested on patients with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), a form of progressive sight loss. Remarkably, after two years, a significant number of patients reported improvement in vision in both eyes.

Creating Hornless Bulls

Researchers have developed a method to create hornless bulls by editing the DNA of the father bull. This provides a painless alternative to current dehorning techniques, which can be painful and stressful for the bull. In 2016, two baby bulls were born with a genetic mutation that means they will never grow horns. This was achieved by introducing a short string of DNA into the father’s cells. The genetic alterations were passed down to the young cattle without causing any accidental side effects.