Alexandra Henrion-Caude, geneticist and Inserm research director at Necker Hospital intends to analyse “genetic editing”and applications made possible with the CRISPR technique.
This technique is “revolutionary” because it“can modify DNA simply with remarkable precision”unlike transgenesis used up to this point to handle the genome. The aspects that proved complicated and uncertain with transgenesis are “extremely easy and can be applied to any type of cell” with CRISPR. CRISPR is simpler, faster, more effective and less expensive. It is, therefore, a “remarkable” tool, “full of promise”, but the repercussions of its use have not been fully mastered to date. Similarly “Precautions must be taken when it comes to genetic manipulation”, warned the geneticist.
She sees two problems in CRISPR applications:
- The first lies in a lack of knowledge about the consequences on the genome: “CTRL+X removes everything that isn’t working and CTRL+V replaces it with good things – that’s feasible based on the principle. But, once again, we have to know what is defined as good (…). Information that is taken in a given genetic context will have a different impact in the context of other genetic information – and that’s something beyond our control. What’s more, no-one talks about it”. Caution must therefore be exercised: “First of all, we have to understand the genome before changing what we need to for our cells and future generations”.
- The second problem of “skipping a generation”is also inherent in a lack of knowledge but this time it concerns “genetic information that skips generations”: “When you touch genetic information per se, you know that any change you make will not be without impact. You therefore have to have full knowledge of the potential impact. The problem is that we cannot control the consequences of that impact. This can be worrying and pose ethical problems”.
Furthermore, Alexandra Henrion-Caude explains, “I cannot use human embryos for human research since, as a geneticist, I know that there is a perfect continuum of genetic information which is brought by the embryo to the human being I am now and the human being I will be when I die”.
A Chinese team has already used CRISPR to modify the human embryo germ line. The geneticist is not surprised: “How can we limit experiments on human embryos because, incredibly, they have been authorised?”. She again points out the following: “When we cut through red tape, we always fall into a world lacking in consistency. It’s extremely difficult to remain both alert and open to all this progress and yet firm and strict when it comes to limitations”.
As far as this scientist is concerned, “it is clearly premature to suggest a scope” for the revolutionary CRISPR technique.