Just over a year ago, Chinese laboratories published the results of a controversial experiment, one that enabled the selective editing of genomes belonging to human embryos. A flurry of ethical debates and research on the relatively new technique known as CRISPR took place in the aftermath. Scientists and policymakers alike were quick to explore the potential applications – and implications – of gene editing. Given the recent anniversary of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and a related intellectual property battle dragging on in US courts, it is appropriate to evaluate the progress gene-editing technology has made and determine how valid our previous assessment of the technology’s potential impact was.
The now-famous CRISPR technique traces its history back to 2012 when, during a study of bacterial immune systems, scientists demonstrated its ability to act as a gene-editing tool. The technique essentially uses a cell’s own repair mechanism to fix cuts in certain locations on a DNA strand. A particular enzyme, Cas9, is directed to a target on the strand, where it then acts like a pair of scissors and cuts the DNA. From there, the targeted portion of the strand can be removed and, if necessary, replaced with another piece of DNA. Though CRISPR was by no means the first gene-editing technique to be invented, its predecessors were more complicated, expensive and time-consuming. And few offered as many opportunities for broader application.
This post was published at FinancialSense on 05/06/2016.