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  • 2017 09 Medicine, The scientific advance of the century
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The scientific advance of the century in medicine, CRISPR, is a technique that allows scientists to make precise changes to genomes. CRISPR is part of the immune system of bacteria. It can cut the DNA of attacking viruses and renders the viruses harmless for the bacteria. The big news is: When CRISPR is fed false information, it cuts the DNA not only of viruses, but also of humans, animals, and plants. And with just a little bit of help, CRISPR not only cuts, but also rewrites (edits) DNA. Rewriting DNA, “Gene Editing,” is not new. Gene edits were possible also before. What is the difference? Firstly, these edits are now much more precise. Secondly, these edits are now much quicker and cheaper. It now takes approx 2 days compared with many months for one edit, respectively, approx 75 US dollars compared with approx 15000 US dollars. And thirdly, this technique, CRISPR, has worked on every organism it has been tried on. CRISPR is a powerful new tool to control what genes get expressed in humans, animals, and plants. The ability to delete undesirable traits, and to add desirable traits, with great precision, takes us closer to designer babies, designer animals and designer plants than ever before.
Francisco Mojica found CRISPR. Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered that CRISPR can cut up any genome at any point. On August 2, 2017, it was published that CRISPR corrected a gene that causes a fatal heart disease in humans.
What will a future with CRISPR bring? 1) Edit industrial crops and animals. 2) Stop genetic disease in humans. 3) Powerful new antibiotics and antivirals. 4) Altering an entire species, the so-called “gene drive” (especially unnerving to many). 5) Most famously, creating designer babies.
Politicians should try to understand the implications, and not just sign off a paper written by lobbyists who work for multinational food and agricultural companies. The scientific advance of the century is already here. What does it mean for your grandson and granddaughter? Let us hope that humanity will be able to use one of the greatest scientific advances in history, CRISPR/Cas9, for the benefit of most people in this world.