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Tech of the Future

MIT Technology Review has named 10 emerging technologies that "have a chance at solving a big problem and opening up new opportunities." Among them are immune engineering, gene editing in plants and crops, and a "DNA App Store" for genetic information.

Genetically engineered immune cells are already working to help cancer patients, Technology Review says, but the technology has the potential to do much more. In one to two years, we could see the emergence of what's being called "synthetic immunology" — engineered T cells that only deploy to search for and destroy disease cells in the presence of a specific drug, or if they sense specific pairs of biomarkers. In addition to cancer, researchers are also working on engineering immunity to autoimmune disorders such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and lupus, Technology Review says, and even certain infectious diseases.

In five to 10 years, according to Technology Review, we could see a deployment of the next breakthrough tech on the top 10 list — gene editing in plants and crops. CRISPR is already being used to modify crops for higher yields and more effective drought and disease resistance. (In fact, CRISPR was one of Technology Review's top 10 breakthrough technologies in 2014.) But the second generation of the technology can be used without leaving any foreign DNA behind, sidestepping many of the concerns around genetically modified organisms, the magazine says. And now companies are getting involved to commercialize the technology. "DuPont Pioneer has already invested in Caribou Biosciences, the CRISPR startup cofounded by Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors of the technology, and is using it in experiments on corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice. It hopes to sell seeds bred with CRISPR technology in as little as five years," Technology Review says.

The future could also be closer than it appears, thanks to another Technology Review breakthrough pick, the DNA App Store. Likely available this year, it's "an online store for information about your genes will make it cheap and easy to learn more about your health risks and predispositions," the magazine says. Created by Justin Kao, the cofounder of San Francisco-based Illumina-backed startup company Helix, the DNA App Store has secured more than $100 million in financing so far. Helix plans to collect a spit sample from anyone who buys a DNA app, sequence and analyze it, and then share the information with other developers who may want to create similar apps, Technology Review says.