Expert Pitch

Pavel Volchkov heads the Genome Engineering Lab at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), that has several key projects, all of them involving genome editing mediated by the CRISPR/Cas technology. Discovered just a few years ago, CRISPR/Cas has emerged as one of the hottest scientific trends. Pavel Volchkov is available to comment on the subject and talk about the process of genome editing in details.

“First of all, let me give you some insight into what the genome is and why it is important. The genome is a sort of a huge system software: Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. It is a collection of data or some instructions that tell you and your body how to work. There are different apps inside: Some of them work in the background, others network with an external server. That’s our genome. It’s in charge of everything. It’s responsible for organ and tissue development, even for some psychological matters. Remember the movie “Gattaca”? You can design an engineer, a sportsman, a supermodel. As you wish! Genome editing works exactly the same way. Of course, it’s not fully operational yet. But still we can make some adjustments even today.

“Let’s go back to the main topic. Being obese means suffering from ischemic disease, to some extent. Most cardiovascular diseases are directly related to lipid metabolism — specifically, to metabolic disorders caused by overnutrition and lack of exercise. You’ll never meet an obese wolf in the wild. If a wolf is obese, it’ll never catch a rabbit. You may ask, what about herbivores? The answer is, they have evolved for millions of years in this direction! Their metabolic system has changed, it differs from ours. That’s why herbivores weigh a lot and are not affected by heart attacks and strokes.

“Humankind, as a biological species, had been evolving in the conditions of insufficient food. We had always been starving. That’s why a slight surplus of food is conserved for a time of famine. Of course, we can wait for a couple of million years, until our species gets used this high-energy diet, or we can do something about it today. Do you see what I’m driving at here? Obviously, there is no need for padding up that much. In the context of genome editing ‘saving until later’ is just a function that may be turned off. It’s a bilateral process, you can always turn it back on if necessary.”

Pavel Volchkov can be reached by contacting Varvara Bogomolova or Nicolas Posunko at the MIPT Press Office. The MIPT website has more news about the research done at the Institute.

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