Carolina Bortoni
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The Power and Perils of CRISPR-Cas9

— Carolina Bortoni

The breakthrough came in 2012, when brilliant biochemists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered CRISPR-Cas9, a revolutionary technology that allows scientists to add, remove and alter genetic material in a cheap and efficient way.

CRISPR-Cas9 works by utilizing organic matter from bacteria. Bacteria are microscopic, unicellular organisms with special traits that allow them to survive nearly anywhere on Earth. Scientists have only recently started to conduct studies that examine these unique characteristics of bacteria on a genetic level, and it was in these studies that the components of CRISPR-Cas9 were discovered. 

CRISPR-Cas9 has two main parts: Cas9 and guide RNA (gRNA). Cas9 is a protein that can cut DNA, and gRNA is a small piece of RNA that can bind to DNA and alter it. When in action, gRNA can guide Cas9 to the targeted gene, which the protein cuts. The result is a powerful piece of technology that allows scientists to make permanent DNA changes that would impact present and future generations of organisms.

CRISPR-Cas9 has applications in many fields, from medicine to agriculture. For example, this technology is currently being used by researchers hoping to resurrect the Woolly Mammoth by  genetically modifying a group of elephants to better adapt to the cold. 

This innovative technology has endless possibilities and complex ethical dimensions. CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to create in-vitro babies with previously decided traits, making it easy to promote morally unjustifiable ideas like eugenics. If misused, this technology could also potentially contribute to the creation of bioweapons and cause global disasters. Additionally, genome editing tools could allow humans to change evolution from this point onward, an idea that many people are against. What most can agree on, though, is that CRISPR-Cas9 is still brand new, and it is up to us to use it in the best ways possible!


References

History of Genetic Engineering and the Rise of Genome Editing Tools. Synthego. (n.d.). https://www.synthego.com/learn/genome-engineering-history 

What are genome editing and CRISPR-Cas9?: Medlineplus Genetics. (n.d.). https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/genomicresearch/genomeediting/ 

Doudna, J. A., & Sternberg, S. H. (2018). A crack in creation: Gene editing and the Unthinkable Power To Control Evolution. Boston: Marine Books.

Jr. Aluno, M. L. (n.d.). CRISPR-Cas9. Instituto de Biologia Paulo de Goes UFJR. https://microbiologia.ufrj.br/portal/index.php/pt/graduacao?catid=0&id=995 

Eva Frederick (n.d.). An on-off switch for gene editing. MIT News. https://news.mit.edu/2021/switch-crispr-gene-editing-0414 

Patterson, T. (2015, October 30). Unproven medical technique could save countless lives, billions of dollars. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2015/10/30/health/pioneers-crispr-dna-genome-editing/index.html?scrlybrkr=f3a06713

Dutchen, S. (2021, November 12). A mammoth solution. Harvard News. https://hms.harvard.edu/news/mammoth-solution

Hu, J. C. (2017, March 1). 4 ways this revolutionary gene-editing tool could change the world. NBC. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/the-big-questions/4-ways-revolutionary-gene-editing-tool-could-change-world-n726371 

Storrs, C. (2015, August 12). Could the DNA-editing CRISPR revolutionize medicine?. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/12/health/genesis-engine-dna-crispr-editas/