CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) has had a breakthrough year. This new technique allows us to edit the DNA of any species—we can target and change a gene, and do so without interfering with any other genes.
The CRISPR gene editing technology involves segments of prokaryotic DNA that contain short repetitions of base sequences followed by spacer DNA. These spacers are able to hone in on one segment of the DNA and cut away specific genetic elements. Essentially, this new tool allows scientists to edit genomes with unprecedented precision, flexibility, and efficiency; opening doors to new genome editing possibilities for many various different industries, from neuroscience and genetic engineering to plant biology
Indeed, CRISPR is being used in labs around the globe. Here’s a look at just how widespread this new technique really is.
CRISPR has found incredible success in application in university research, leading to an exponential growth in CRISPR publications. The technique has pushed basic research on fields like cancer and autism to new levels. You can see a list of just some of the publications at the link provided.
CRISPR has already allowed scientists to change the nature of animals, creating genetically modified worms, flies, ferrets, and hornless cows.
CRISPR recent resurgence means that regulations are few and far between, making it a big draw for the agriculture industry. Gene edited food is expected to hit shelves in as soon as five years.
Although human gene editing is still highly controversial, CRISPR will undoubtedly see human application in the future, particularly in gene therapy, which has the potential to treat genetic diseases like hemophilia. Precisely and efficiently correcting human genes would involve using viruses to move DNA into a human subject. This is also being used to research epilepsy and other potentially life threatening genetic conditions.
Recently, biologists have developed a technique called a “gene drive” that modifies mosquitos to resist malaria and pass the trait onto other mosquitoes, in an attempt to eradicate the disease.
The Democratization of Genetic Engineering
CRISPR components are available for order online for only $60, bringing genetic engineering to the masses. Projects like the Amino, a $700 bioengineering starter kit, could create a new generation of gene editing hobbyists. In short, literally anyone in the world can manipulate the “source code of life” and have an in-home genome editing lab.
The CRISPR Takeover: A Final Word
Ultimately, the rapid spread of CRISPR to many different industries and fields shows just how simplistic, efficient, effective, and versatile the system is. Of all of the designer nuclease systems currently available for precision genome engineering, the CRISPR/Cas system is—by far—the most user friendly.
Ultimately, as the above breakdown illustrates, CRISPR’s use seems to only be limited by our imaginations.