New gene-editing tool that is changing the science field
You may have heard this term be used around quite often and spoken with high regard and without a doubt, this technique does deserve the hype it gets. Since its introduction in 2012, CRISPR been used to manipulate the DNA of plants (food), animals, and even humans and with this editing tool, we may foresee a cure for cancer, HIV, cystic fibrosis, and other diseases.
CRISPR (also known as Cas9) stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” and was first discovered in the immune system of bacteria. This mind-blowing technique is a simple procedure in retrospect: the enzyme Cas9, which if you think of like a pair of molecular scissors, first identifies a specific strand of DNA and cuts strands of this DNA out. Then, mutations are introduced in order to create the desired DNA in what is known as genome editing.
This tool has been essential in allowing scientists and researchers to alter the cells of living things by turning certain genes on or off to enhance the quality of one’s health.
For example, in 2016 on University of California campuses, researchers figured a way to use CRISPR to fix defective bone marrow cells to cure sickle-cell anemia, a condition in which the body’s red blood cells become a crescent moon shape and therefore, preventing these cells from carrying enough oxygen throughout the body. Additionally, CRISPR has been used to create malaria-resistance mosquitoes to keep this disease from spreading.
And best of all, CRISPR might be the answer to all our prayers: a cure for cancer at last. Some researchers have edited T cells — a type of white blood cell that are essential in the adaptive immune system that identifies and attacks specific pathogens — so that they recognize cancer cells and kill them. Additionally, turning off cancer cells’ defenses which protect them from T cells through gene editing will come to be very essential. Some cancer cells have PD-1, a protein found in healthy cells, and helps keep T cells away by “pretending” to be healthy cells. So if scientists can use CRISPR to turn off the gene that is required to make PD-1, T cells will be able to attack cancer cells.
Keep in mind, you are altering DNA, the genetic code of what makes you a person and makes you different from anyone else. So using CRISPR for cosmetology purposes and even medical issues can raise questions from an ethical standpoint. Editing cells in embryos through germline editing has been looked down upon but has been done by an Oregon scientist and his team who used CRISPR to take out a heart disease-causing genetic error in human embryos. There are many clinical trials using CRISPR, but practices such as editing genes in human embryos to create designer babies are completely forbidden.
If you recall the headlines from a year ago, a Chinese scientific team, led by He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, was caught using CRISPR in order to modify twins before birth in order to make the girls, Lulu and Nana immune to HIV, the virus responsible for causing AIDS. He did this by deleting the CCR5 gene — the gene required by HIV to enter blood cells — in the embryos. Not only was this alteration found to potentially protect them from being infected by HIV, but scientists discovered that CCR5 serves as an inhibitor of memories and synaptic connections and therefore, believe that this procedure involving CRISPR may have enhanced the twins’ cognition and memory, essentially making them “designer babies.” However, it is hypothesized that these kids might have a shorter lifespan. He Jiankui has been sentenced to three years in prison for going around scientific and medical ethics and proceeding with this treatment without receiving a doctor’s qualification and forging ethical approval documents. Though Jiankui may have good intentions, he took a risky endeavor, which could hurt these two innocent girls in the future.
Even considering the ethical aspect surrounding this tool, CRISPR may be a game-changer as long as people remember not to take advantage.
Khatri, Minesh. What Is CRISPR? What Conditions Does It Treat? 14 Oct. 2019, www.webmd.com/cancer/crispr-facts-overview.
Metcalfe, Tom. What Is CRISPR? 31 Dec. 2018, www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/what-crispr-ncna952696.
Mullin, Emily. The 7 Craziest Ways CRISPR Is Being Used Right Now. 18 May 2020, https://onezero.medium.com/the-7-craziest-ways-crispr-is-being-used-right-now-bcf3bd203f23.
Regalado, Antonio. China’s CRISPR Twins Might Have Had Their Brains Inadvertently Enhanced. 2 Apr. 2020, www.technologyreview.com/2019/02/21/137309/the-crispr-twins-had-their-brains-altered/.
Originally published at https://gdeekshita.wixsite.com on June 25, 2020.