Startup Uses AI to Edit Human DNA

Startup Uses AI to Edit Human DNA

Image by Getty / Futurism

A team of researchers at a Berkeley-based startup called Profluent say they’ve used generative AI technologies to edit human DNA.

As the New York Times reports, the startup fed huge amounts of biological data into a large language model (LLM) to come up with new editors based on the groundbreaking gene-editing technique CRISPR, as detailed in a yet-to-be-peer-reviewed paper.

Their goal is to produce gene editors that are more efficient and capable than existing biological mechanisms that allow organisms to, for instance, ward off diseases and other pathogens.

Profluent also claims to have already used one of these AI-generated gene editors, dubbed OpenCRISPR-1, to edit human DNA. The company says it’s the “world’s first open-source, AI-generated gene editor” that was “designed from scratch with AI.”

“Our success points to a future where AI precisely designs what is needed to create a range of bespoke cures for disease,” said cofounder and CEO Ali Madani in a press release. “To spur innovation and democratization in gene editing, with the goal of pulling this future forward, we are open-sourcing the products of this initiative.”

While the company is open-sourcing its AI model, it’s keeping the AI tech itself a secret. For now, it’s more of a proof-of-concept and it’s still unclear if OpenCRISPR-1 will be able to match or outdo existing CRISPR models, as the NYT points out.

Besides, as experts told the newspaper, what’s really holding back the field of gene editing is the number of preclinical studies to show if these edits are safe and effective. Despite plenty of optimism, scientists are still concerned about the possible side effects of editing human DNA, including the potential of triggering — rather than fighting — cancer.

Unperturbed, Profluent VP of gene editing Peter Cameron is calling the company’s AI gene editor a “watershed moment and the beginning of what we hope will be an iterative process as we embark on this next generation of building genetic medicines.”

By open-sourcing the editor, Profluent is hoping to leverage the expertise of other researchers to improve the model over time.

“We encourage the gene editing community to pressure test OpenCRISPR-1,” said Cameron in a statement. “If there are particular features that could be improved for a specific application, we’d like to know and can collaborate to optimize those properties.”

In other words, the company has only begun to investigate the potential of AI-generated gene editors — and only time will tell if their invention will result in the development of a feasible treatment for humans.

More on gene editing: Scientists Manage to Cut HIV Out of Individual Cells

Startup Uses AI to Edit Human DNA

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