The newest developments in gene-editing technology may drive athletes to alter their DNA in order to receive a competitive advantage over their competitors. The revolutionary gene-editing technique, CRISPR/Cas is the breakthrough in the biotechnology world that allows scientists to make changes in the DNA in a highly precise way. The largest challenge in terms of using gene-altering in sports is currently technology that will be able to detect it. Having said that, a team of scientists in Germany has found a method that came one step closer to it with the help of SpCas9 protein.
2020 Nobel Prize Winners For CRISPR/Cas Gene-Editing Technology
The main scientists behind CRISPR/Cas received the 2020 Chemistry Nobel Prize for their research and development of the revolutionary method. With CRISPR, the scientists add an RNA molecule and a protein into the cells. The RNA molecule plays the role of a guide that leads the way for the protein in order for the protein to reach the appropriate DNA sequence. Once the protein reaches the DNA sequence, it cuts it in half and alterations can be made. The amazing ability of the CRISPR method is that it allows alteration of any DNA sequence, something that no other gene-editing methods have not been able to achieve.
Ethical Concerns Regarding CRISPR/Cas
As one can imagine, a technology as developed as CRISPR/Cas that allows for such precise gene alterations raises extensive ethical considerations that come with the use of CRISPR/Cas in humans. The debate starts with the controversies concerning the idea of “designer babies” but is not limited to it. CRISPR/Cas for example shows unprecedented opportunities to fix serious gene defects in embryos. While some scientists and ethicists believe it is a clinical breakthrough and benefit that we must take advantage of, others believe that it is too unsafe of a technology that crosses an ethical line.
Unprecedented Opportunity For Athletes
Apart from using the CRISPR/Cas gene-editing technology for fixing DNA defects, it also presents an opportunity for other, less severe applications. Among the widely discussed one is the use of gene alteration to gain a competitive edge in professional sports. It is not hard to imagine that such technology raises a tempting opportunity for athletes and along with the opportunity comes the serious risk of misuse of CRISPR/Cas. It is not hard to predict that gene alteration using CRISPR/Cas would be banned by the World Anti-Doping Agenecy as it is considered “gene doping”. The issue is that the CRISPR/Cas is such a revolutionary, new method that detecting it gets challenging.
How Can Use Of Gene-Editing Technology Among Athletes Be Detected?
Professor Mario Thevis, an expert of Preventive Doping Research and the Director at the Institute of Biochemistry at the German Sport University in Cologne gathered up his team to research the possible ways to detect gene alteration. Professor Thevis and his colleagues worked on identifying the protein that is most likely going to be used in the doping, Cas9, from the particular bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes (SpCas9), in human plasma samples and in mouse models.
How Does The SpCas9 Protein Method Work?
The team led by Thevis spiked the SpCas9 into the plasma and followed by isolating it and cutting it for further analysis. Once the SpCas9 protein was analyzed, the scientists observed that the different elements of the protein can be identified and separated from the plasm matrix. Once mice were injected with the SpCas9, the researchers could show that the concentrations in the blood peaked after 2 hours and could be seen up to 8 hours after injection. Thus, even though it is just preliminary research, Thevis and his team made a big step toward developing a successful method that will detect unfair athletes trying to gain an edge by gene-editing technology.
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