The life science-based subproject deals with the analysis of novel biological threats arising from the application of bio- and genetic engineering methods, also with regard to the intentional release of biological agents. The aim is to develop an improved integrative tool for the identification, management and prevention of extraordinary biological threats, which takes into account natural disease events as well as the intentional release of harmful biological agents by state or terrorist actors.
In addition to the continuous risk assessment of new technologies, the focus is on selected experimental methods with security-relevant aspects. An example of this is the CRISPR/Cas9-system for targeted and improved genome editing, whose applicability in principle and practically achievable efficiency will be examined in greater detail within the framework of the subproject using the model organism Burkholderia spp.
The findings will be used to obtain parameters for the modelling of unusual disease outbreaks and intentional releases, thus contributing to an improved assessment of particular biological threats.
Expertise from the subproject will also be incorporated into the development of risk minimisation strategies for research with a particularly high potential for abuse (Dual Use Research of Concern, DURC).
Subproject manager: Dr. Mirko Himmel
Efficiency of gene modifications artificially performed with CRISPR/Cas
The life sciences are developing rapidly and sometimes produce techniques and methods whose application is also conceivable for abusive purposes. New biotechnologies can therefore often be viewed bidirectionally in terms of their application potential. Although the production and successful dissemination of potentially harmful biological agents is difficult and involves high technical hurdles, certain genetic engineering methods could help to lower these hurdles. In order to be able to counteract a potential danger or even deliberate application to harm humans and the environment, a corresponding basic understanding of these new technologies has to be established. One such currently controversial technology is genome editing using the CRISPR/Cas9-system. In nature, there are various CRISPR/Cas systems with which many bacteria can specifically defend themselves against viruses and other foreign DNA. Biotechnologically optimized variants of CRISPR/Cas can also be used to specifically modify the genome of humans, animals, plants or other microorganisms.
Possible applications range from the potential cure of hereditary diseases to the production of completely new types of microorganisms. The research in the BIGAUGE project deals on the one hand with the elucidation of the functional regulation of the CRISPR/Cas-system in the model organism Burkholderia glumae and on the other hand with the efficiency of gene modifications carried out artificially with CRISPR/Cas. In the BIGAUGE project, the knowledge gained will contribute to the parameterization of risk potentials of new technologies and thus to an improved analysis of biological risks.
Contact person: Eva Oellingrath