We all well know that us humans have been kind of doing gene editing for decades already. Or purposeful breeding if being more accurate. We have managed to create different dog breads by selective breeding for different purposes, some of them are really useful for helping us in various tasks and others, well…they are cute. And not forgetting GMO – vegetables that have been on the markets for years. Now scientists are taking the gene editing to a whole new level. A couple of years ago, a new groundbreaking tool called “CRISPR” was found, which will probably allow versatile gene editing opportunities in the future.
Firstly, what is this CRISPR?
The term “CRISPR” stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats of genetic information, that some bacterial species use as part of an antiviral system. So, more clearly it means that we have bacteria in our bodies and bacteria has its own ways to protect itself from viruses. Scientist were able to find out this method and modify it to help us in the field of gene editing.
Gene editing with the CRISPR system relies on an association of two molecules. The other one is called Cas9, it’s a protein and its mission is to “cut” the DNA. The other molecule is a short RNA molecule whose job it is to work as a “guide” that brings Cas9 to the position where it’s supposed to cut.
With the great power of gene editing comes great consequences,
but are they good or bad?
This new tool to edit human DNA will bring a lot of opportunities along its way.
If you think about it from a medical perspective, it’s a game changer. It might offer an opportunity to cure genetic diseases, which has been impossible until now. It could help with the endless struggle with finding a cure to cancer. Or maybe it can solve the problem of aging, perhaps it can make humans younger – who knows what will be possible with a tool like this?
One possibility is that, in the future, people could start to use CRISPR for designing human embryos, and that could go really wrong… Imagine, if one could choose what genes to have for unborn children, only imagination and prosperity being the limit. If it would be possible to choose any quality like high IQ, certain type of appearance, maybe silver colored skin, excellent physical strength or even increase some craft skills. Stuff that you would imagine reading from a science-fiction book.
But luckily at least the last scenario is not going to happen any day soon. You remember a bit over a year ago the news telling about the Chinese scientist who had performed an experiment using CRISPR as a tool to fix embryo’s DNA to be resistant for HIV? They were the first gene-edited embryos that were born to this world. And the experiment was widely criticized because of its unethical and irresponsible features. It’s forbidden to do this kind of experiments anywhere because we don’t know the consequences it may cause. Recently a study was published about new research results about how these babies are doing now. And it seems that the experiment has failed: results show that there has happened a mosaic effect, which means that the children have now a mixture of edited and unedited cells. So clearly we aren’t yet ready to do that.
The thing with gene editing is that we don’t really know yet what we are doing and how it will affect in practice. We don’t want to create any super-humans whose genes will morph in the future. Now we have realized this tool and in theory we know how to use it. But for now, it’s almost impossible to do experiments on humans because of the ethical questions the subject has. Only the time will show how useful this invention will be for humankind.