• Question: can genomes be changed???

    Asked by ccarton676 to Barn Owl, Brown garden snail, Common Crane, Emperor Dragonfly, Hazel Dormouse, Catshark, Scotch Thistle, St Kilda Wren on 6 Dec 2017.
    • Photo: Emperor Dragonfly

      Emperor Dragonfly answered on 6 Dec 2017:

      YES! And a lot more easily than ever before. Amazingly bacteria have been defending themselves against their viruses (called bacteriophages – “for bacteria eaters”) for millions of years using an enzyme called Cas9 – this cuts the DNA of bacteriophages but only if the bacteria has a “record” of the bacteriophages DNA in a kind of library in their cells – there really is, in the DNA of a bacteria a record of every bacteriophage they have met, a bit like our immune system remembers cold viruses we have met.

      Scientists can reprogramme this system to change any bit of DNA and it seems to work in just about any organism – even humans.

      I can’t think what I would change in the Emperor Dragonfly – millions of years of evolution have made them practically perfect in everyway, but maybe I’d try removnig some of their “junk DNA” – they have huge genomes, probably mostly made of “junk DNA” (DNA that we do not think has a function). If we were to get rid of it and it made no difference to the dragonfly we would have tested the hypothesis that the junk DNA really is non-functional – which is what science is all about!

    • Photo: Hazel Dormouse

      Hazel Dormouse answered on 6 Dec 2017:

      Absolutely. Not permanently in the animal we have taken the sample from. We can’t make ourselves some crazy mutant Hazel Dormice with superpowers (however ever much we would like to). But once we have the sequencing, lets see what changes could occur!

      The Hazel Dormouse may have anti-venomous properties according to folklore, which is not uncommon for rodents! They also hibernate for over half the year; NASA are looking at the genomics behind hibernation now to see if it can be of benefit in long term space travel. Genomes are offering a whole range of new scientific platforms for researchers. It is a very exciting time!

    • Photo: Common Crane

      Common Crane answered on 7 Dec 2017:

      Yes and this can be quite useful. The UK lost common cranes about 400 years ago and they are coming back. If humans were to know more about us, they would be in position to prevent our extinction if, say, something is threatening us and this threat can be avoided by modifying our genes.

    • Photo: Lesser-Spotted Catshark

      Lesser-Spotted Catshark answered on 8 Dec 2017:

      In theory yes, but in practice we have not yet developed a technique to do this reliably in sharks…yet…We are able to modify the genome of many cells, but not the whole animal at once. This needs to be done at the single-cell stage after fertilisation and this is very difficult to access in sharks. However, this is only a technical problem and can certainly be overcome with enough effort. Having a genome sequence makes the actual editing part much easier using techniques like Crispr-Cas9 mentioned.