Bill Gates: 2 ways CRISPR will improve global health

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, argued gene editing will improve global health within the next decade.

In an essay for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gates noted although "more people are living healthy, productive lives than ever before," there are still many pressing inequalities to address throughout the globe. He suggested CRISPR — a gene-editing techniques that enables scientists to modify an organism's DNA — will help researchers overcome challenges related to disease, malnutrition and poverty.

"Some of the remaining suffering can be eased by continuing to fund the development assistance programs and multilateral partnerships that are known to work," Mr. Gates wrote. "But ultimately, eliminating the most persistent diseases and causes of poverty will require scientific discovery and technological innovations."

Here are two specific examples Mr. Gates laid out as to how CRISPR will address global health.

1. Feeding the world. In Scotland, Mr. Gates said he met with researchers at the University of Edinburgh who were applying genomics to help farmers in Africa breed chickens and cows. For example, the researchers examined ways to edit the genes of various breeds of cattle to ensure they could survive in the hot climate and boost dairy production.

The use of gene editing in livestock and agriculture has the potential to support local farmers and reduce malnutrition in developing countries, according to Mr. Gates. "This sort of research is vital, because a cow or a few chickens, goats, or sheep can make a big difference in the lives of the world's poorest people, three-quarters of whom get their food and income by farming small plots of land," he wrote.

2. Ending malaria. Research on malaria is "one of the most promising near-term uses of gene editing," according to Mr. Gates. As an example, he shared how some researchers are using CRISPR to disrupt the fertility of select species of mosquitoes, editing genes to either cause infertility or skew reproduction toward producing male offspring, which cannot transmit malaria.

"It will be several years, however, before any genetically edited mosquitoes are released into the wild for field trials," Mr. Gates acknowledged. "Although natural selection will eventually produce mosquitoes that are resistant to any gene drives released into the wild, part of the value of CRISPR is that it expedites the development of new approaches — meaning that scientists can stay one step ahead."

To access Mr. Gates' essay, click here.

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