What happens when, suddenly, the work of all life brings forth fruit and proves to be revolutionary? It happened Francisco Martinez Mojica, a Spanish microbiologist and scientist, who saw how his 10 years of work in the lab rapidly spread around the world. From the University of Alicante, where he works, he saw how international colleagues took the findings and how his name began to sound stronger and stronger for the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
What did Martinez Moiţa do? discover a very special mechanism that bacteria need to defend against viruses. Back in 1993 something caused his curiosity: microorganisms had a regular repetition of DNA fragments. "These repetitions of genetic material were deployed at the same distance as if it were a pedestrian path," he illustrated the scientist in a dialogue with Comfort.
"This model is associated with a very special bacterial defense system because it gets: DNA has recollections of attacks that may have happened hundreds of years ago," he continued. Thanks to memory, bacteria can again recognize viruses and protect themselves. Based on this immune system, CRISPR was born ten years later (or, in difficult, short palindromic repetitions grouped and regularly interested, for her acronym in English). You may have heard of this tool, also known as "genital scissors," a kind Copy the paste of Bioinformatics.
Martinez Moiica then developed a technique that enabled cutting and insertion of genes from her primary research. Why? Change DNA, of course. "This is what the components of this immune system do best because they are programmed for it," he said. Perhaps you are still wondering about the end of all this: "After we reduce DNA, there are many possibilities, such as editing or changing the sequence. So, we can change it according to our whim – within the knowledge of the human being – any biological function. Future expectations focus on treating diseases, "added a specialist.
It is that if we know that some pathologies represent changes or genetic mutations, With these scissors we can fix them and return them to their normal form. Hence, a tool can revolutionize medicine. Another application is one type delivery"If we eliminate the ability to cut, we have a tool that allows the protein to be brought to a specific location in the genome of any living creature," he said.
In this sense, there are already vehicles to act in places where the interaction of genetic information, detecting the presence of viruses, infections such as dengue or tumor cells. "A few weeks ago, another version was presented that provides a quick and simple diagnosis of genetic mutations, that is, within the 3,000 million genes of our DNA, a small cigar-size device can detect the presence of specific changes in the genetic material, "wrote the father of scissors in detail.
Now, before this opportunity to "change our whim" there is concern: what is the border? In particular, after a Chinese researcher used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to generate HIV-resistant twins. "The only good thing that this researcher was doing was to stir up the debate about something we know could happen by 2015. Doing this right now is an outrage, it is necessary to control such procedures in order not to be implemented. I know how far it can go and that's almost where you want it, so I'm pretty clear that you need to regulate it earlier, the better, "he said.
Given the potential of this technique for DNA correction without the need to modify the genetic material to eliminate pathologies, viruses from infected cells, and so on, Why is it not yet used in everyday life? Martinez Mojca compared this situation to that of drugs, which requires very strict controls before it comes to the market. While these tools can be used as therapeutic agents, on the one hand he warned that it is still not possible because the technique is not sufficiently polished to guarantee its safety.
On the other hand, he argued that there were limitations arising from the tolerance of the immune system from which the instrument comes. "We program these molecular scissors to go to a certain place, to cut and arrange them. But what happens is that these systems not only recognize a region identical to them, but also other similar ones. With this, besides the correction of the area that we want to change, we can cause non-specific changes in places that are practically random and unpredictable consequences, "he explained.
That is why it is still working on the technique, to increase its accuracy and effectiveness. For a moment, Clinical trials are performed outside the patient: the cells are removed, modified outside the body, and then injected again. "It's progressing so fast and there are so many research groups working sooner or later to overcome difficulties," he said.
Martinez Moiţa will visit Argentina next week for the first time to receive the title Honoris Causa at the National University of Quilmes. For his contribution to science, he admits he is satisfied. "You spend thinking about something for years, without knowing where it will take you. When you find it, it's something loyal. To see that every work with a technique that stems from that initial investigation is very satisfactory," he admits.
In this sense, he discovers that he becomes very excited when young researchers approach him to thank him for inspiration. "This is a shame thing. And if someday you cure CRISPR, I will not tell you. That your work has an impact on this tenor is huge, I do not believe it, It is very difficult to assimilate. I am glad that the importance of basic science is recognized and I hope that we can use the influence it has, "he concluded.