Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
By Boris Salinas
CRISPR-Cas9, a gene editing tool with the ability to edit DNA and potentially shift the course of evolution. CRISPR stands for, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat. What does this mean? In every genome there exists a certain repeating pattern of DNA sequence which are also regularly interspaced, these are called REPEATS. In between REPEATS there exists a genome sequence called SPACERS, these SPACERS are not identical in any shape or form. So, what does this mean? And what does it do?
The initial intention for the progression of CRISPR research was to innovate gene therapy and develop cures for genetic diseases. Unlike bacteria or viruses which medicine can treat directly or alleviate symptoms until the immune system kills all the remaining bacteria or virus. Genetic diseases are not identified as a threat by the immune system since it is a part of the blueprint by which you are built. To treat genetic disease, you would quite literally have to alter DNA and reprogram the whole organism. As you may imagine this is a very difficult thing to do.
The creation of CRISPR-Cas9 was derived from a protein called Cas9. Which is so to say the “immune system” of a cell. Cas9 has the ability to memorize viral DNA and later alter the DNA of the bacteria in which it resides to create a resistance against the virus. It was later discovered by an American Biochemist, Jennifer Doudna, that this protein could be directed or programmed. This meant that with the use of the Cas9 protein, the possibility of editing genomes however is needed becomes a possibility. This will alter the course of evolution. CRISPR-Cas9 is an extremely powerful tool.
Currently this technology is only about 18 years old. In November 2018, reports from China marked the first time in history that humans edited the genetic code of a future generation. These two subjects were Twin Girls who are now immune to HIV. In a sense, with this new technology we as a species exist in an era which could be considered the end of the beginning.
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