The concept of humankind being able to eliminate world hunger, wipe out genetic disease and direct our own evolution is one confined to the libraries of science-fiction, right?
A powerful new gene-editing technology called CRISPR-cas9 (simply referred to as ‘crisper’) has taken the scientific world by storm, and the potentials seem endless. However, those who know of it are divided on its prospective use.
Growing support for the technology has been accompanied by a committed opposition. Opponents claim its application carries too many uncertainties, and call for a ban on research.
What is CRISPY crisper CRISPR?
CRISPR can alter any organism’s DNA through using an RNA guide molecule (which encodes a genetic change and seeks out the section of target DNA) and a protein called cas9 (which cuts the DNA and replaces it with the change).
CRISPR fascinates scientists due to the unprecedented speed and precision at which it can do this. The simple method allows modification of any known genetic sequence, including that of the germline (meaning changes will be passed on reproductively).
Many arguments over CRISPR’s safety were silenced following research that reported zero unintended genetic effects from its application. With this technical barrier removed, and the CRISPR debate as hot as ever, I’m going to provide three reasons why research must continue:
- People dying from debilitating disease is… not good
CRISPR offers the possibility to remove conditions from the germline that have no other potential treatments. Cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and Alzheimer’s are only a few degenerative conditions that the technology could eliminate.
Not deadly enough? How about curing cancer? CRISPR allows the study of poorly understood genes (including those related to cancer) which advances drug development for unlimited conditions.
Treating humans with novel biotechnology isn’t your cup of tea? No worries.
- Uses outside of human application
CRISPR can be used to genetically improve the yield of staple crops, increasing food security in a growing global population. With current predictions stating that global food demand may increase up to 98% by 2050, continued CRISPR research may prove invaluable in preventing mass starvation.
CRISPR also has environmentalists covered, with research showing the ability of modified yeast to produce precursors of various biofuels and polymers. Because who doesn’t love a future of clean energy and building different things?
3. Chill guys, it’s only research
Research does not imply clinical application, and calls for a research ban as we ‘don’t know enough’ are not only contradictory, but fail to address the core issue.
Humanity may need CRISPR. Its potential may conceivably pass that of any other biotechnology in history, and great care must be taken in decisions on its use when the time comes. Overarching safeguards exist to prevent ethical and social abuse of biotechnology, and halting research now may only disarm ourselves from means to solve future problems.
CRISPR offers a new world, perhaps we should be innovative enough to see what that world looks like.