What is CRISPR-Cas9?
CRISPR-Cas9 (short for Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a system for gene modification.
That's right: With this new, revolutionary technology, you would be able to specifically change and edit sequences of your DNA.
You could completely delete certain genes from a cell, or simply alter the amounts of it, or create a mutation inside a gene by changing the base pairs (tiny pieces of DNA).
This process is called genetic engineering.
This is not an entirely new idea - humans have been experimenting with improving genes for a long time (think of breeding, or GMO food products!) but until recently, it was an extremely long, complicated and expensive process.
The new system CRISPR-Cas9 has completely revolutionized the field of Bio-Engineering and will eventually change all our lives - forever.
How does it work?
To quote the video and summarize the most important part that explains how exactly CRISPR works, this is what it's all about:
- Bacteria and Viruses are contantly in a fight.
- So-Called "Bacteriophages" are hunting bacteria.
- Phages use bacteria as factories by taking their own genetic code and transferring it into the bacteria
- When the Bacteria survives, they initiate their own Anti Virus system : They take partof the Virus' DNA in a DNA archive called "CRISPR".
- If the bacteria gets attacked by the virus again, it copies the information from the DNA archive.
- A protein called Cas9 can now analyze the attacking virus, and compare its DNA to the string of saved DNA.
- If it manages to find a 100% match, the protein is being activated and cuts out the part of the Virus' DNA.
- This immunizes the virus and saves the bacterium from the attack.
The process is already happening naturally - the revolution is just that scientists have found how to PROGRAM it.
This way, living cells can be edited - and it works for any type of cell in humans, animals, plants etc!
The new method was discovered in 2012 by french biochemist Emmanuelle Charpentier and her colleague Jennifer Doudna from the US.
It's very likely that they will be rewarded with the Nobel Prize for their discovery!
Future Outlook & Possibilities with CRISPR-Cas9:
Of course, the method is still very young and it's too early to actually execute any of these ideas.
But if we think about the possibilities for a moment - what are all the things that we could do with CRISPR-Cas9 ?
Imagine you could modify any part of the DNA of any living being - the possibilities are almost endless.
- We could alter plants and crops and make them immune against any diseases, to make sure every future harvest would be successful.
- We could genetically modify livestock and keep it healthier (under worse conditions.)
- We could end human diseases like cancer forever. Once we get sick, we could simply replace that part of our DNA with a healthy string.
- We could alter our aging process and get much closer to the everlasting dream of "eternal youth".
- We could totally transform ourselves, in any way we wanted to - whether that's to remove allergies and handicaps, or simply change body features for cosmetic reasons.
- We could modify DNA in embryos, creating "Designer Babies" - shaping unborn childs into the person we want them to be.
At first this sounds amazing, but it also sparks a lot of ethical questions!
Imagine a world where rich parents just purchase certain features for their Babies - green eyes, intelligence, strong immune system - and therefore "design" their own child.
I personally believe that CRISPR-Cas9 will revolutionize Biology, and potentially our whole lives.
I'm excited to learn more about this futuristic method and work with it myself soon.
Imagine you were living in 1960 right now, and somebody would tell you that people would own small cellphones in the future that gain them access to almost every information in the world, that robots would replace people's jobs and that processes in almost every aspect of life would be automated.
You'd think that would be impossible - right ?
We might be at that exact same turning point now - and genetic engineering might totally change our lives and what we view as "natural" in the future.
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