Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 15th 2015 Contents B34
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A gene-editing method could one
day make pig organs suitable for use
in people, scientists say.
Prof George Church and colleagues
used a technique called Crispr to alter
the DNA of pig cells to create a better
match for humans.
The early work, in the journal Sci-
ence, aims to address concerns about
rejection and infection by viruses
embedded in pig DNA. If successful,
it could be an answer to the shortage
of human donor organs. Years more
research is needed before genetically
modified pigs could be bred to grow
organs for people.
Crispr is a relatively new scientific
tool that lets scientists snip and play
around with the code of life---DNA.
Prof Church, from Harvard University,
used it to inactivate a retrovirus present
in the pig cell line.
This porcine endogenous retrovirus
is potentially risky because it can infect
human cells, at least in the lab. In tests
on early pig embryos, Prof Church was
able to eliminate all 62 copies of porcine
endogenous retroviruses from the pig
cells using Crispr.
Next, he checked if the modified pig
cells would still easily pass the retro-
virus on to human cells. They did not,
although there was still a small amount
Prof Church says the discovery holds
great promise for using animal organs
in people---what doctors call xeno-
transplantation. Prof Church, who
part-owns a company that wants to
develop modified pigs to grow organs,
said: "It was kind of cool from two
standpoints. One is it set a record for
Crispr or for any genetic modification
of an animal, and it took away what
was considered the most perplexing
problem to be solved in the xenotrans-
"With immune tolerance, that com-
pletely changes the landscape as well.
"These two things, immune tolerance
and now getting rid of all the retro-
viruses, means we have a clear path."
Dr Sarah Chan, an expert from the
University of Edinburgh, said: "Even
once the scientific and safety issues
have been addressed, we should be
mindful of the possible cultural con-
cerns and societal impacts associated
with more widespread use of pig organs
for human transplantation.
"Nonetheless, the results of the study
are valuable both as a proof of principle
and a potential step towards therapeutic
advances in this area of much-needed
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and advice
A gene-editing method could one day make pig organs suitable for use in people, scientists say.
A cure for vitamin B6 deficiency?
Plant scientists engineered the
cassava plant to produce higher lev-
els of vitamin B6 in its storage roots
and leaves. This could help to pro-
tect millions of people in Africa
from serious deficiencies.
In many tropical countries, par-
ticularly in sub-Saharan Africa, cas-
sava is one of the most important
staple foods. People eat the starchy
storage roots but also the leaves as
a vegetable. Both have to be cooked
first to remove the toxic cyanide com-
pounds that cassava produces.
But the roots have a disadvantage:
although rich in calories, in general
they contain only few vitamins. Vita-
min B6 in particular is present in
only small amounts, and a person
for whom cassava is a staple food
would have to eat about 1.3kg of it
every day for a sufficient amount of
this vital vitamin.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is prevalent
in several African regions where cas-
sava is often the only staple food
people s diet. Diseases of the cardio-
vascular and nervous systems as well
are associated with vitamin B6 defi-
Plant scientists at ETH Zurich and
the University of Geneva have there-
fore set out to find a way to increase
vitamin B6 production in the roots
and leaves of the cassava plant. This
could prevent vitamin B6 deficiency
among people who consume mostly
Their project has succeeded: in
the latest issue of Nature Biotech-
nology, the scientists present a new
genetically modified cassava variety
that produces several-fold higher
levels of this important vitamin.
"Using the improved variety, only
500g of boiled roots or 50g of leaves
per day is sufficient to meet the daily
vitamin B6 requirement," says Wil-
helm Gruissem, professor of plant
biotechnology at ETH Zurich.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is prevalent in several African regions where cassava
is often the only staple food people's diet.
Gene editing could make pig organs for humans
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