On the eve of the 100th anniversary of Wageningen University, the WUR organised a symposium on current research in advanced gene editing systems: ‘CRISPR-Cas, from evolution to revolution’. Keynote speaker Eugene V. Koonin (Head of Research at the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, USA), receives an honorary doctorate during the Dies Natalis on 9 March 2018. Professors Eugene Koonin, John van Oost (WUR) and Niels Geijsen (UU) did their best to explain their highly specialised scientific endeavour which started in 1987 to a mixed audience.
Most notably, there is a great diversity in Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and CRSPR-associated genes (Cas) systems. Class 1 systems are large and complex, while class 2 systems tend to be smaller and evolve quickly by exchanging genetic material with other organisms and viruses. Worldwide, experts are searching new varieties and trying to develop a comprehensive classification. Several CRISPR-Cas types can be used for gene editing, by deleting or incorporating pieces of DNA in targeted locations of a chromosome. These systems are also the drivers of immunisation of human and other living organisms to viruses and bacteria, and of autoimmune diseases.
A variety of potential benefits is foreseen, including in eradicating diseases such as Malaria and Zika, which are spread by mosquitos, but possibly also in finding cures for genetic diseases. If gene editing is used in the human or animal germline, this induces irreversible changes in the genetic make-up of subsequent generations. These and other uses of gene editing call for wide public dialogue on the ethical dilemmas at stake. Nienke de Graeff, PhD student of bioethicist Annelien Bredenoord (UU) stimulated discussion through some provocative interactive questions. The event offers food for thought for the ongoing stakeholder dialogue on Modern Biotechnology, organised by the ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. On 25 March, Dutch TV programme VPRO-Tegenlicht will feature this discussion on CRISPR-Cas. Info: https://knaw.nl/en/news/calendar/crispr-cas-from-evolution-to-revolution?set_language=en