By Caitlyn Limanto
Supervisor: dr. Dina Satriawan, M. Nsci(Adv) Faculty of BioMedicine
Recent developments in science and technology have explored the use of CRISPR, a gene editing tool, in order to alter our DNA and potentially rid the world of genetic diseases. But will this powerful tool be the cure to diseases such as cancer, or lead to a catastrophic downfall in science?
“With great power comes great responsibility” is a statement that has never been truer in the face of rapidly evolving science and technology. The emerging CRISPR technology is no exception. Short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, CRISPR is essentially a tool to precisely cut out genes and insert new ones; this means that with CRISPR, we could change our DNA into limitless possibilities that we want it to be.
The human genome, made up of our DNA, is a sequence of base pairs that encode who we are: our hair, our eye color, our height… Genetic disorders arise from mutations in our DNA, which could essentially mean a lot of things: a missing base pair, a wrong base pair or a shift in the base pairs — all of which can cause detrimental consequences such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia to name a few. With CRISPR, once scientists are able to identify the mutated genes that cause diseases, they can efficiently use the technology to cut out the damaged gene and replace it with a functional one, thereby, theoretically curing the disease (MacDonald, 2018).
CRISPR is an extremely promising tool that can return to us countless advantages. The most obvious benefit would be its use in gene therapy to cure diseases. CRISPR has paramount efficiency. Scientists can use it to edit thousands of genes at once, so they are able to study the effects of different genes, find out which ones cause genetic diseases, and cure them (Welcker, Adriano, 2017). Despite sounding complicated, CRISPR is a simple tool and can be conveniently used by trained molecular biologists. Lastly, CRISPR is cost-efficient. While previous DNA editing methods cost up to $5000, CRISPR costs as little as $30, allowing for a larger demographic to have access to this tool (Weisberg, 2017).
On the other hand, CRISPR technology is still in its infant stages and holds high probabilities for harmful outcomes. Since it is so new, scientists are still unable to judge any side effects that may occur in the long run on people treated by CRISPR gene therapy methods. Furthermore, with the great power that CRISPR yields, when used wrongly, it can easily prove a useful weapon in the likes of biological warfare. Ethical concerns have also surrounded the debate on CRISPR for gene editing in human embryos. Due to the inherent greed that resides within humans, many of them may use CRISPR to do more than simply heal diseases in the embryos. For example, CRISPR allows for the dubbed “designer babies” to exist, where parents choose their baby’s DNA and edit them to create a favorable outcome. Many in the world are skeptical about the morals involved in fighting against nature to do so (Hamzelou, 2017).
The debate around CRISPR, its uses and its distribution is among the hottest within science, but no matter the outcome, this tool undoubtedly holds extreme potential in advancing the world of science. Specifically, in curing diseases using gene therapy. Developments in countries such as China and America have already allowed for CRISPR testing on humans, and many are soon likely to follow. As we take our steps into the future of science, we will be sure to face CRISPR as a significant tool that can catalyze tremendous changes, whether they be good or bad.
Flora, Adriano, and Jochen Welcker. “CRISPR Genome Engineering: Advantages and Limitations.” Rodent Research Models, 22 Feb. 2017, www.taconic.com/taconic-insights/gems-design/crispr-genome-engineering-advantages-limitations.html.
Hamzelou, Jessica. “Human Genome Editing Shouldn’t Be Used for Enhancement – Yet.” New Scientist, New Scientist, 14 Feb. 2017, www.newscientist.com/article/2121264-human-genome-editing-shouldnt-be-used-for-enhancement-yet/.
MacDonald, Cara. “CRISPR Could Cure Genetic Diseases – Daily Utah Chronicle.” Daily Utah Chronicle, 30 Mar. 2018, dailyutahchronicle.com/2018/04/10/crispr-could-cure-genetic-disease/.
Stöppler, Melissa Conrad. “List of Genetic Diseases – Types, Symptoms, Causes, Definitions.” MedicineNet, www.medicinenet.com/genetic_disease/article.htm.
Twist. “CRISPR Part 2: Exciting Recent Advances in CRISPR.” Twist Bioscience, 2017, twistbioscience.com/company/blog/crispr-part-2-exciting-recent-advances-in-crispr.
Weisberg, S. M., Badgio, D., & Chatterjee, A. (2017). A CRISPR New World: Attitudes in the Public toward Innovations in Human Genetic Modification. Frontiers in Public Health, 5, 117. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2017.00117