Recently Scientist have unlocked an INCREDIBLE technology which will change the course of humanity. CRISPR (clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) could have as large of an impact on Biology as the semiconductor had on electronics. It cracks open the very foundations of life. So that raises the question, what is CRISPR?
CRISPR is a technology that allows us to edit DNA. Any DNA, in any cell. It’s all fair game, bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, people. We can crack open our own genetic code and manipulate it, and we can do this on living organisms.
That’s Awesome, but what is CRISPR physically?
CRISPR is a DNA archive that bacteria use. Normally this archive is used to store the DNA of viruses that have attacked the bacteria. By holding on to a copy of the virus DNA, the bacteria can use a protein called CAS9 to search out and remove that specific strand of DNA, making the virus useless.
It’s a teeny tiny immune system, but more importantly we’ve figured out how to use it to our advantage. We can put DNA sequences into the archive and let CAS9 go around chopping that DNA sequence out of the cells.
By using this natural property of bacteria we’ve effectively made ourselves a copy/paste tool for DNA.
Admittedly it is still very difficult, and there is a lot we don’t know, but the underlying technology behind it is very cheap. We can do a lot of research without having to break the bank. More people can conduct more trials, with more samples, much more quickly. It’s not something reserved for huge massively funded projects.
We’re going to have a LOT of people researching possible uses in practically every field. Medicine, Agriculture, Ecology, microbiology, if it involves living things there will be CRISPR research done on it.
The Promise Of CRISPR
With this technology we could find cures for countless genetic diseases. Rather than just managing the symptoms, we could actual change someone’s genetic sequence. We could custom tailor our immune system to better fight diseases like cancer, or end aging altogether.
It’s an incredibly powerful tool, but like any tool its usefulness lies in who’s wielding it. We could overwrite and cure any genetic disease, but only if we understand how the genes work. CRISPR lets us change genes but doing so without understanding what those changes do is a scary proposition. There’s a non-zero chance of creating Godzilla.
Because of this there will likely be some very important regulatory actions in the future. Banning gene editing would be a shortsighted and foolish endeavor, but some oversight and regulations are necessary. There is a lot on the line and we really want to get it right. Genetic research is about to see an explosion and we’ll learn things about ourselves and all living creatures we never imagined.
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