August 04, 2017

An End to Inherited Disease? Plus Other Good News

By Chelsea Follett
Researchers in the U.S. just came one step closer to achieving immortality through “cryo-preservation” or the freezing of bodies in the hopes of bringing them back to life at a later time. Although only performed on zebra fish embryos, advances in cryo-preservation succeeded in preserving brains and bodies “in a state of suspended animation” by freezing and reviving individuals at the time of their choice. The main problem of cryo-preservation is the expansion and destruction of cells during the freezing process, and even after adding anti-freeze solution, the large size of certain cells still causes ice crystal formations to appear and damage cell structures. The scientists were able to solve this by adding nano-rods to the anti-freeze solution. This solution allowed rapid warming and cooling to occur, and 10 percent of the embryos survived and continued to grow as normal after being un-frozen. If this technology can be used on humans in the future, people could theoretically live forever, and suspended animation could also make long distance space travel possible.  

A new medical breakthrough could help to eradicate inherited diseases. Researchers were successful in editing the DNA of human embryos to eliminate a heritable heart condition. This is the first gene-editing of human embryos performedin the U.S. Sperm from a donor with the gene that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a non-preventable and incurable condition that affects 1 in 500 people, was injected into healthy egg cells. Using the technology called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), a sort of "molecular scissors," the researchers successfully cut out the mutant gene, and the cells were able to repair themselves naturally with copies of healthy non-mutated genes as they multiplied. In response to the concerns about the ethical issue of editing genes, the researchers stated the goal of this experiment is to edit away mutant genes that cause tragic medical conditions, not to produce “designer babies” with a parent’s desired eye color or other frivolous changes. The ultimate goal is eradicating all inherited diseases before a baby is born.   

While emissions-free renewable energy is still too expensive and unstable to meet current energy demands, a startup, NET Power, is trying to change that. They are opening a new fossil-fuel power plant that will produce emissions-free power at about $0.06 per kilowatt-hour, which is about the same price as energy from a natural gas-fired plant. The technology is called carbon capture and storage (CCS). Instead of releasing CO2 into the air, this process compresses CO2 and sends it back to the depleted oil reservoirs to enhance oil recovery and at the same time reduce the carbon footprint of the process. Being well aware that fossil fuels are not going away globally, the company decided to focus on fossil fuels, which are cheap but typically release more emissions than some other energy forms. The adoption of this technology could allow communities to enjoy stable and affordable yet emissions-free power from fossil fuels.