Artificial Intelligence is a terminology that has been mentioned in almost every industry, from finance to healthcare to automobiles. Because of the impact it has made, it is now set to revolutionise the field of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. It comprises a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, not exclusive to transferring genes within and across a specie’s boundaries to produce improved organisms.
You can imagine the wide array of applications and potential genetic engineering. If we are capable of successfully isolating key genes of organisms with precision and efficiency, there is potential to cure genetic diseases, improve crop yields, and even eradicate pests. One of the most significant developments in genetic engineering in recent years was the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing tool that brings with it the benefit of unprecedented precision and efficiency. From producing food that is more nutritious, resistant to pests and diseases, or tolerant of herbicides, to developing new drugs and therapies for human diseases, to creating new biofuels and other industrial products, to improve the safety and efficiency of industrial processes, to developing new diagnostic tools and methods for disease prevention, the list of potential applications is endless.
Because of the sheer complexity and volume of the genetic code and data in gene editing presenting significant challenges for researchers, AI has had to come into play. Algorithms can be created to analyse vast amounts of genetic data quickly and accurately, identifying patterns and relationships that are nigh impossible for humans to discern by themselves. When patterns and relationships become easier to identify, researchers can more easily understand the functions of specific genes. Through the application of machine learning, AI algorithms can design more effective CRISPR-Cas9 systems.
Unfortunately, the response regarding genetic engineering is still unsavoury in this day and age. People worry that genetically modified or engineered food may be harmful to their health, which is a sentiment that has not been the least bit quelled in recent years. Other people are against the altercation of naturally existing organisms, conscience or not.
Other countries and governing bodies have taken the initiative to begin the massive manufacture of specific genetically modified organisms that provide a slew of nutritional benefits i.e., the Golden Rice Project, a variety of rice that is genetically engineered to biosynthesise beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A. It is intended to be grown and consumed in areas with a shortage of dietary Vitamin A.
Genetic engineering provides amazing tools for biomedical research, including the modification of animal models to study human diseases, the creation of disease-specific cell lines for drug discovery, and the development of gene therapies to treat genetic disorders. These advancements contribute to our understanding of human biology and facilitate the development of innovative medical solutions. Recent studies have led to breakthroughs in lab testing and diagnosis, specifically a device called a “liver-on-a-chip,” a three-dimensional tissue culture model of the liver. This device is made up of a microfluidic chip with a network of channels that allow for the flow of fluids and nutrients. The chip is seeded with liver cells, which are then allowed to grow and form a 3D tissue. The chip can be used to study the effects of drugs, toxins, and other environmental factors on the liver. It can also be used to study the development of liver diseases. The beauty of using this device is that it comes with the added benefits of studying the effects of drugs and toxins in the liver in a more realistic setting, as well as observing how far liver diseases progress. These chips would also greatly reduce the need for lab testing of animals, which is an added bonus towards environmental preservation. We are a long way from seeing the healthcare industry completely adopt this new technology, but the benefits far outweigh the good.
One controversial effect of genetic engineering is the gene editing of embryos. A question of morality and ethicality may be asked when it comes to tempering with unborn fetuses altogether. Gene editing of embryos carries with it the potential to enhance human health by enabling the production of safer and more effective medicines, improving diagnostics, and developing personalised treatments tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup. It can also assist in preventing inherited diseases by modifying disease-causing genes. Imagine completely eradicating fatal diseases like cancer altogether by simply altering the genetic makeup of the fetus as it is developing.
Time will tell whether or not people will open up to the idea of genetic engineering. For now, we wait with bated breath.