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High Promise

Included this year on MIT Technology Review's list of the top 10 'breakthrough technologies' is genome editing. The entries on the list, Tech Review says, "solve thorny problems or create powerful new ways of using technology" and "will matter for years to come."

Genome editing using the CRISPR system, it adds, will better enable the study of brain disorders by generating non-human primate models of conditions like monkey models of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

"CRISPR could help researchers tease out the mutations that actually cause the disorders: they would be able to systematically introduce the suspected genetic variants into monkeys and observe the results," Tech Review's Amanda Schaffer says. "CRISPR is also useful because it allows scientists to create animals with different combinations of mutations, in order to assess which ones — or which combinations of them — matter most in causing disease."

It also, she notes, opens up the possibility of altering embryonic human genomes during in vitro fertilization, but she adds that most researchers don't seem keen to follow that path. Nor is it necessary for many genetic diseases, adds Hank Greely, director of Stanford University's Center for Law and the Biosciences, as parents-to-be using IVF could simply choose an embryo without the disease. While it could be a consideration for genetic diseases with multiple genetic components, researchers just don't know enough about those diseases and it may be too complex of a process.

Also on this list are microscale 3D printing, neuromorphic chips, and agricultural drones.