DNA double-helix with color-coded nucleotides, phosphates and sugar

Estrategias para una edición de genes responsable

CAMBRIDGE – El descubrimiento de una poderosa herramienta nueva capaz de resolver problemas sanitarios y ambientales tan diversos como la malaria, la enfermedad de Lyme y las especies invasoras debería ser causa de celebración. Pero como la herramienta, llamada CRISPR, puede modificar poblaciones enteras de organismos salvajes (y los ecosistemas compartidos), asegurar que estas intervenciones se desarrollen de manera responsable es un enorme desafío para la ciencia y la sociedad.

Los seres humanos llevan milenios modificando animales y plantas por medio de la cría selectiva; pero al tratarse de cambios que en general reducen la capacidad de supervivencia y reproducción en el entorno natural, no se trasladan a las poblaciones salvajes. En cambio, las modificaciones que pueden hacerse con CRISPR, una técnica que permite a los científicos editar el ADN de las células con una precisión nunca antes vista, son diferentes en un aspecto crucial: el proceso puede dar lugar a un “impulso genético” (gene drive), una propiedad que se da naturalmente en algunos genes y les permite difundirse en una población durante generaciones, incluso si esos genes no colaboran con la supervivencia y la reproducción.

Es decir, ahora podemos imaginar la modificación de poblaciones silvestres en formas muy específicas y con profundas consecuencias. Esos cambios pueden ser sumamente positivos. Modificando ciertos rasgos de los mosquitos, podríamos reducir o incluso erradicar viejos azotes como la malaria y el dengue que afligen a cientos de millones de personas cada año. (Solo la malaria mata a un niño cada 90 segundos, en promedio.) Mediante la inmunización permanente de las poblaciones animales pertinentes, podríamos prevenir la aparición de nuevos casos de enfermedad de Lyme y otras que se originan en organismos salvajes, o poner freno a patógenos nuevos como el virus del Zika, que en América latina se ha vinculado a una epidemia de malformaciones cerebrales en recién nacidos.

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