Tuesday, February 14, 2017

CRISPR, a Blessing or a Curse?

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)


  1. I learned about CRISPR in one of my biology courses and thought it was so interesting how technology and science has advanced throughout time. Its mind-blowing how you could alter genes by turning them off or on in order to cure possible mutations. I think its pretty scary how in the near future humans will be able to actually "create" their own babies using this technology. I personally believe thats a crazy idea and might not be a good thing for humanity...there are some things that we should just leave untouched....

    Posted by Angela Driscoll (group A)

  2. CRISPR-Cas9 is an amazing technology with countless applications! Scientists have recently performed “genomic surgery” using CRISPR-Cas9 to treat age-related blindness in mice. Age-related macular degeneration has to do with the overexpression of the VEGF gene, causing too many blood vessels to be formed in the eye which leads to blindness. Scientists successfully cured blindness in mice by injecting CRISPR-Cas9 with the modified VEGF gene and saw a 58% reduction in the number of blood vessels in the eye. This could lead to new therapies for other degenerative diseases in humans.


    Posted by Sierra Tyrol

  3. This is an amazing technology and crazy to think that it's actually possible. But the real question is, is it right? I took a medical ethics class before here at Umass and learned all about the debates on topics like these. Many issues could arise if something like creating the genetic makeup of your children became legal. Although this technology could be useful in many other aspects, it may also be detrimental to society to have such a thing be done in my opinion.

    Posted by Natalie Nou

    1. That is my real concern with the technology. There is no doubt the technology is amazing and the possible good it could cause is endless. What I struggle with, is the numberous possibilities of the technology being used for "designer babies" and things of that nature. I am not sure how we figure out if the good will outweigh the bad, without just waiting and seeing and that is a tad bit scary.

      Posted by Jenna Lansbury

  4. I think you bring up a lot of important questions at the end of your post. If CRISPR's capabilities are taken advantage of before some type of regulation is put in place, who knows the extent of the consequences we'd face going forward. On a more positive note, I'm confident that our scientists will work within boundaries of the law to use CRISPR to benefit society. You mentioned that there could be a potential overpopulation problem, which I might have to disagree with. I believe that overpopulation can occur without the aid of gene editing. For example, it was law in China up until recently that families were limited to having only one child. Anyways, I think the pros of CRISPR heavily outweigh the cons, hands down.

    Posted by Ross Cavalieri

    1. Ross, I completely agree with you. The technology is definitely more of a positive! It's just hard to say if it will play out as a positive or if it will be taken advantage of and end up hurting humanity more that benefitting it. I feel if it were to be taken advantage of, it would not likely be by scientists, but some politician or Jon Doe.

      Also, I agree overpopulation is already a problem and can occur without gene editing. However, what I meant to point out, is that with gene editing overpopulation may be exaggerated more than it already is, as disease could almost essentially be eliminated.

      Post by Jenna Lansbury

  5. There are pros & cons in every situation. We don't know how CRISPER will effect the general population until they have access. I don't think designer babies have to be a bad thing. If people have the choice to create their ideal babies that doesn't mean everyone would end up being the same. These decisions would be made based on cultural and personal values. Most people don't have the exact same cultural and personal values so we could still expect variations. If anything designer babies could be the next evolutionary step for humanity. Smarter, stronger, and healthier humans would change the way societies are constructed, this could be revolutionary for our species. Who knows, given their perfect baby on the first try people might not feel the need to have 3 more and add to the population problem. There are many variables that haven't been determined and besides using CRISPER for biological warfare I don't think there are many other substantial points to oppose widespread use.

    Posted by Michael Aflakpui