Copyediting Our DNA

Anne Trafton reports on new research that allows researchers to "[edit] the genome with high precision":

To create their new genome-editing technique, the researchers modified a set of bacterial proteins that normally defend against viral invaders. Using this system, scientists can alter several genome sites simultaneously and can achieve much greater control over where new genes are inserted, says Feng Zhang, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT and leader of the research team.

In other genetics news, Mark Lynas, a long-time opponent of genetically modified (GM) crops, recently reversed his stance. He recounts how a little research revealed some of his "cherished beliefs" to be "little more than green urban myths":

I’d assumed that [GM] would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide. I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs…

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them. I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.