Recently, in genetic engineering a new gene-editing technique has been sweeping the biomedical field and it’s called, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats,CRISPR for short.
As we’ve learned a genome is the sequence of DNA found in an organism’s chromosomes(DiGiuseppe, 2011). Every individual has their own specific genome which determines their genetic make-up. To put it simply, scientists have previously been able to genetically modify organisms by cutting out genes from two organism and inserting it into another with the recombinant DNA technique. This was done by using restriction enzymes, that have the ability to cut DNA at a specific site, to cut segments of DNA from different organisms then fuse them together to create recombinant DNA that can be incorporated into another organism’s genome (DiGiuseppe,2011). Unfortunately, this technique is difficult to apply especially to mammals as it is very expensive,slow and difficult to achieve(Uppangala,2010).
That’s where CRISPR comes in. The technique was discovered four years ago and spread like a virus. CRISPR has allowed molecular biologists everywhere to be able to alter genomes in all organisms quickly, precisely and at the extremely low of price of only $30(Ledford,2015)! The simplicity of CRISPR also plays a role in its adoption by science labs around the world. So what is CRISPR? Well in 1987 CRISPR was found in bacteria but the use was unknown. It wasn’t until 2007 that scientists determined that CRISPR was used as a defence against bacteriophages (Ledford, 2015). Using Cas9 enzyme and a guide RNA molecule CRISPR is able to locate the invading viral genome and destroy it(Harvard University,2014). Finally, in 2012 scientists realized the amazing gene-altering abilities of CRISPR and it was applied successfully in 2013. Since then biologists everywhere have been able to use CRISPR to perform amazing feats including building a malaria resistant mosquito, compile a list of the essential genes that drive human cancer and revive ancient woolly mammoth genes using the DNA of modern elephants (Crowe, 2015).
The benefits of CRISPR are undeniable but its also important to recognize the disadvantages. We shouldn’t let history repeat itself as with the DDT crisis of the 1960. DDT was a pesticide hailed as a miracle spray, and because scientists refused to learn about all the possible effects, insects and animals became endangered and we are still facing the deadly consequences today with its presence in our oceans. This time let us not wait until its too late. Personally, I feel that before scientists begin making such life-altering changes using CRISPR they should first look into all possible outcomes of their work. Once that is determined and the tests are verified to be safe, I think CRISPR could be an amazing tool to bring the ideas of the future into today. Do you think the advancements made from CRISPR should be moving at such a breakneck pace or should we hold off on new experiments until we are sure it is safe?