CRISPR, a Blessing or a Curse?
The new CRISPR/Cas9 technology is one of the hottest topics in biology today. It is not surprising that it is has captured so much attention; its potential implications for the future of humanity are astronomical.
CRISPR stands for, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, so you can see why everyone just calls it CRISPR. The new technology was developed by mimicking a repair technology that many bacteria use. The bacteria have an enzyme (Cas9) that snips and removes parts of the viral DNA from its sequence; they leave a small segment of the foreign DNA behind so they can recognize future invaders; essentially the system is a functional immune system.
|How the CRISPR technology works step-by-step|
Image credit: Genome Research Limited
What is so amazing about this technology is that scientists have been able to use it to remove genes and turn genes on and off at will, with ease. I can attest to how easy the technology truly is, I have actually helped to CRISPR several genes in a lab I worked in last semester by simply following the procedures published in the current literature, all you need is a bit of basic laboratory technique to edit an organisms genome.
Shouldn’t that scare us? That a 20 year old student lacking an in depth knowledge or expertise of what she is doing could potentially edit the human genome by following a simple guide, if she wanted to. This technology has the potential to do a lot of good; diseases that are caused by a simple known mutation, such as cystic fibrosis, or more complicated diseases like Alzheimer’s disease could essentially be eliminated from the human population, but at what cost?
CRISPR could also allow for selective genome editing if it is left unregulated or falls into the wrong persons hands’. In simple terms, designer babies are a very real and a very large possibility due to the advent of this technology. Before CRISPR, picking the traits of your children seemed like something that could only happen in SciFi movies, like Gattaca.
This technology poses a plethora of ethical questions for humanity? How do we regulate it so it is only used for good? Would eliminating diseases really be beneficial, or would overpopulation become an even bigger problem? What would happen if parents could choose their babies’ appearances and their entire genetic makeup? Would we all look the same? Think the same? Act the same?
How can we regulate CRISPR and its role in society? And should we? Unfortunately only time will tell.
Posted by Jenna Lansbury (2)
Source of article: http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-gene-editing-is-just-the-beginning-1.19510
Sources of pictures: http://imaginesciencefilms.org/gattaca/