How Our New Pair of Molecular Scissors can Reshape the World
Assistant Editor in Chief
CRISPR-Cas 9 is not some tasty treat, nor is it the newest, edgiest band on the block- It’s perhaps the most important breakthrough in biotechnology in the last decade.
CRISPR-Cas9 is, in simple terms, the gene-editor’s photoshop. It’s a system that allows humans to easily, quickly and cheaply alter DNA in living cells. It’s the breakthrough that’ll allow genetic engineering the possibility to drastically alter the world in an incredibly short time frame.
Once a resource-intensive and expensive procedure, the price and time spent on genetic engineering projects has been slashed by over 99%. (GMO Sapiens, Paul Knopfler) CRISPR-Cas9 is defense system that we’ve borrowed from specific kinds of bacteria and repurposed into a pair of molecular scissors that let us cut and snipe strands of DNA wherever we please. It also allows us to precisely identify specific strands of DNA in genes, as well as remove them or add to them. All for next to nothing, and in next to no time. CRISPR does it all, apparently.
The applications of this technology are essentially infinite. As we continue to grow and evolve as a species and civilization, the altering of our genetic code will no doubt become commonplace. The ability to manufacture immunity to many diseases with just a few injections of a modified CRISPR strand would boost the efficacy of our immune systems in general. Being better able to target retroviruses like HIV/AIDS would be an outstanding improvement compared to current treatment techniques. CRISPR-Cas9 could eventually lead to mass genetic editing, and forever permanently alter our own gene pool. It could lead to the eradication of previously incurable diseases, like Herpes, or remove hereditary genetic diseases from children, such as Huntington’s.
CRISPR-Cas9 opens up an array of opportunities that we’ve never seen before. While this is only the beginning, think of it like a computer from the 1930s; Massive, unwieldy, and filled entire rooms. But now we’ve got computers orders of magnitude more powerful that we hold in our hands, walk around with almost every hour of our lives. In just a few short decades, CRISPR-Cas9-altered individuals might be as prevalent as cellphones.
CRISPR-Cas9 is nothing short of revelatory. And although it comes with good intentions and high hopes, many wonder about the ethical concerns behind genetic engineering. The idea of ‘designer babies’ has been thrown around more and more, and while some argue that it would be unethical to not alter the genome of reproductive cells or fetuses to remove dangerous hereditary diseases from children, others are aware of the slippery slope that could lead to needless and unnecessary vanity changes.
Our pair of molecular scissors is nothing short of miraculous. It presents humanity with options and possibilities of all kinds to improve our future. But it also comes with problems, ethical and otherwise. The harnessing of CRISPR-Cas9 itself is, again, perhaps the most important discovery of the last ten years… But where will it take us?