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Locking Down the Genome

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced recently that it is looking for researchers to contribute to its Safe Genes project, with the goal of developing tools to protect the genome against unwanted gene editing, whether intentional or accidental, according to The Stack.

A recent update to the project proposal has detailed what DARPA's looking for — "the development of systems which can apply a kind of 'Digital Rights Management' to a genome, rendering it resistant to a variety of genome editors, and also able to reverse the effects of gene editing on an already-affected genome, based on the distinctive signature of various editing tools," The Stack says.

The first step would require contributors to develop ways to counter gene editing in mice and insect embryos. DARPA specifies that the inhibitors should be "capable of inhibiting multiple classes of gene editors in multiple species," and can include delivery mechanisms such as "small molecules, antibodies, interfering RNAs."

The subsequent stages would involve testing the inhibitors in live subjects and then in a gene drive, The Stack reports, adding, "The project's scope appears to be both remedial and preventative as if it might be possible to develop a type of immunization against external genetic interference — at least from editing tools that leave identifiable signs behind."