New experiments in the field of genetics have shed light on ways in which we could alter our genes to improve our lives. Image: Compfight

The insertion of a specific gene into unborn babies has been the subject of sci-fi for a long time, but also a study subject in the development of medical technology. In 2015, University of San Diego biologists Ethan Bier and Valentino Gatz developed a technology named “active genetics,” which consists in parents choosing the 50 percent of their desired genetic traits instead of the natural 50 percent standard inheritance.

Some of these targeted gene-drives may include genetic systems immunizing mosquitoes against transmitted diseases like malaria. Bier and Gantz also proposed that this method could offer potential solutions to diseases and treatments similar to stem cell treatments with a new focus point. They also stated that active genetics may also help in agriculture.

This year, on February 6th, Bier and Gantz announced that so far they have employed CRISPR/cas9 in order to edit genetic regulatory elements during their formation. This led to the revelation of new mechanisms that control regulations in gene activity; which in turn gave experimental validation to prove that the insertion of targeted genes would function for step replacement of controlling factors.

“Technical advances enabled by active genetics represent an innovative toolkit to engineer organisms with novel features, thereby enabling a new era of advances in synthetic biology,” said Gantz.

What is transgenesis and how does it work?

Transgenesis consists in the insertion of an exogenous or “foreign” gene in order to alter a living organism so it may express a new property attained by the foreign gene. For this to happen, both living organisms must share a similar DNA charge.

In fact, one of the most attempted methods of transgenesis is the DNA microinjection. However, it hasn’t provided many satisfactory results but turned it into a research tool nonetheless.

The DNA microinjection consists of a targeted gene being injected in the pronucleus of a reproductive cell so it may be kept in vitro to develop an embryonic phase. This has been a focal point in Bier and Gantz’s research since it has helped to understand the functioning of genetic mechanisms.

What are scientists trying to achieve with active genetics?

The focus point of this research is to achieve and expand further knowledge regarding genetic mechanisms through the analysis of genetic control, responsible for the coordination of structure development in living organisms.

Among the organisms studied we can find mainly fruit flies, which proved a new interaction between chromosomes contributing to the mastering of gene activity control.

Also, the demonstration of active genetics as a platform for the carting of new and more perfect organisms will remain as an outstanding product of this research.