CRISPR - A Tool for the Genetic Modification of Humans

First off, you might be wondering what this cereal-sounding word actually means.

The acronym CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It is a genetic tool created by the combination of the Cas9 protein and guide RNA. It is found naturally in prokaryotic organisms like bacteria and archaea.

CRISPR searches the genome for a match to its guide RNA, then inserts itself between the strands of the double helix, which is where the Cas9 protein comes in. The Cas9 protein then cuts the double helix, which leaves a gap in the DNA. The cell then fixes this gap by either:

  • Attaching the two strands of DNA (this process is not the most efficient, as it can cause mutations).

  • Repairing the missing strand by creating a new strand (since diploid organisms have sets of DNA from both their mother and father, the unharmed chromosome can repair the missing DNA).

Essentially, CRISPR can cut out or replace anything that matches its guide RNA.

And this is where CRISPR could save lives.

Some cells carry the p53 gene, which senses when a strand is faulty or mutated, so it stops the cell from multiplying or simply self-destructs the cell. Cancer cells have faulty DNA (which can be caused by the cell attempting to fix the DNA strand unsuccessfully), and research has shown that many cancer cells have disabled p53 genes. So the p53 gene may be a key to help researchers solve the mystery of cancer.

CRISPR has also aided in successfully removing HIV from human cells. Researchers at Harvard University have also revealed that they are using CRISPR to attempt to revive the woolly mammoth- an animal that went extinct almost 4,000 years ago.

But should we change our DNA? Would allowing the use of CRISPR and other gene editing technologies be simultaneously creating a path for misuse and unnecessary human editing to create designer babies?

Who draws the line on which procedures are necessary and which are not?

The answer is you.

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