The Chinese government has been putting its hopes and increasing amounts of funding on a new, and sometimes controversial, tool called CRISPR.
China hopes to encourage its researchers to advance the gene-editing technology, which they have already used to make wheat resistant to a common fungal disease, more muscular dogs and pigs with leaner meat.
The tool, officially called Crispr-Cas9, is a genetic editing tool that acts like a pair of low-cost and highly precise molecular scissors that are able to cut out the unwanted section of DNA and insert desired ones, as reported by Bloomberg.
Previous procedures used to be more time-consuming, pricey and sometimes held inaccurate results. Due to the effectiveness of the tool in some areas, businesses worldwide are seeking to capitalize the emerging technique, which could lead to eventually challenge U.S gene-editing companies.
The difference is that in China is more the government side interest in the advancement of the tool, meanwhile, in the U.S is the private side one on the lead. U.S gene editing companies have attracted more than $1 billion in investment since 2013.
In China, the National Natural Science Foundation, a prominent government-backed institution, awarded more than 23 million yuan ($3.5 million) to at least 42 CRISPR projects, an increase of more than 100 percent from last year funding. China has also been helped by a large amount of internationally trained scientist, many of them trained overseas.
“I would rank the U.S. and China as first and second Crispr-Cas9 research countries, respectively, at this time. Both countries have much strength in this area,” said Paul Knoepfler, an associate professor of cell biology and human anatomy at the UC Davis School of Medicine in California.
According to the cell biologist, the U.S has more high-profile papers, CRISPR biotech, and intellectual property, but China has published a lot in CRISPR animals.
Chinese teams have been covering many of the gene-editing areas, from agriculture to embryo research. Last year, a team from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou became the first to report CRISPR work in human embryos, they attempted to edit a gene that causes the blood disorder called thalassemia.
They reached the conclusion that the tool needs to be better understood and more accurate before being used in human testing. Their research attracted many doubts and critics from the international community, although the team, led by Professor Huang Junjiu, said that they only used non-viable human embryos.