Why Everyone Should Care About the Future of CRISPR

It’s not about designer babies. It’s about finally putting an end to cancer, world hunger, and more centuries-long tragedies.

Stephanie Juall
Dec 6, 2020 · 6 min read

CRISPR technology finally gets the recognition it deserves with the Nobel Prize, yet so many non-scientists have still never even heard about it.

I’m by no means a scientist or even remotely close to being one. I’m merely a product lover with a keen interest in the sciences. So, I’m not going to pretend as if I’m writing a research paper here. But if anything, that should be even more of a reason to believe that CRISPR will inevitably become a staple dinner table topic, and not just discussed amongst the most elite intellects of our generation.

I know a lot of people will probably read the first two lines and revert right back to their Instagram feeds, but if you’ve made it this far- DON’T. Trust me. CRISPR is important, vital even. The more people we get involved in just talking about it, the more resources we can generate for the progress of this technology.

The first patent for CRISPR gene editing technology was filed in 2012. Since then, companies utilizing the technology have faced many legal fights over who owns the actual CRISPR Cas9 methods. These patent battles have slowed the progress of rolling out the technology to the public. But, finally in 2020 amidst a most horrific year, we are starting to see serious traction. So, what is CRISPR? The way I (a regular non-scientist person) would define it is as the following:

CRISPR Cas9 is a tool for editing our DNA sequences to fix genetic defects. It can be used to treat, prevent, and cure diseases in both humans and crops.

How was it first discovered? I’ll let an actual scientist describe that one:

CRISPR technology was adapted from the natural defense mechanisms of bacteria and archaea (the domain of single-celled microorganisms). These organisms use CRISPR-derived RNA and various Cas proteins, including Cas9, to foil attacks by viruses and other foreign bodies. They do so primarily by chopping up and destroying the DNA of a foreign invader. When these components are transferred into other, more complex, organisms, it allows for the manipulation of genes, or “editing.”

The scientific process of how CRISPR works is something I wouldn’t be able to do as much justice for as some of the published papers you can find through a Google search. I recommend these if you want to read about the nitty gritty:

Human Germline Genome Editing

Genome engineering through CRISPR/Cas9 technology in the human germline and pluripotent stem cells

Don’t worry, you don’t have to feel obligated to read these scientific publications in order to take up an interest in CRISPR technology.

If you’re anything like me, it’s sometimes a lot easier to just synthesize several different sources to create your own opinion of it. And that’s what I hope to help you do.

For as long as any of us living beings can remember, cancer and other genetic diseases have always been one of the largest threats to our very lives. Many of us have lost loved ones to the beast, and many others have battled it themselves. I personally know a few of these warriors myself and I hope reading this article excites them and gives them even more hope than it does for me.

Just this year, we have been lucky enough to see CRISPR move from petri dish to human trials. And the future of its success is looking so bright. The reason why cancer is so deadly, is that it causes mutations in our DNA. One little mutation can suddenly create entire masses of mutated DNA sequences. Scientists have struggled for decades to find reversible solutions. Many of the existing treatments have been extremely invasive, exhausting and painful for those suffering from cancer. CRISPR, on the other hand can work so precisely that it’s been compared to the likes of using tiny scissors to cut out unwanted pieces of DNA.

Of course like any other massive discovery though, CRISPR has faced it’s fair share of hold ups. Ethical talks about designer babies and inequality have been circling the technology. I’m by no means diminishing the ethical concerns. Every major medical and/or technological improvement should be carefully released and used for good. I hope that we will create strong legislation around the usage of CRISPR and avoid taking a miracle and making it a weapon of destruction. But for the sake of this piece I will defer to these articles for you to develop your own opinion on the ethics:

What are the Ethical Concerns of Genome Editing?

Ethics of Human Genome Editing

Yes, designer babies and growing inequality would be a nightmare. But the worst case scenario shouldn’t subtract from the incredible potential CRISPR has for good. In addition to treating and curing cancer & other genetic diseases, it’s also a promising tool in helping fight against world hunger and global warming.

The increasing human population and changes in climate experienced worldwide make it urgent to the production of fruit crops with high yield and enhanced adaptation to the environment, for which conventional breeding is unlikely to meet the demand. Fortunately, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) technology paves the way toward a new horizon for fruit crop improvement and consequently revolutionizes plant breeding.

To many of us New Yorkers, living amongst some of the richest people in the world, world hunger seems like a topic that we speak of but never witness. It may seem far off but it has always been here. The more time goes on, the more our population grows, the more pollution we produce, the worse it all gets. And sooner or later it will be in our very own backyards. Face it whether you want to or not. It’s not just a far off land’s problem. It’s our problem. We are actively contributing to it every single day. I won’t blame anyone for avoiding the topic up until now, but now that you’re reading this I’m personally holding you responsible for at least acknowledging that this is a humanity crisis.

As the world gets hotter, the more difficult it becomes to naturally maintain crops without the help of advanced science. CRISPR again is here to hopefully save the day. CRISPR can be used to create more resilient crops. Crops that can withstand weeks without water, extreme heat, predatory insects, and more. This is vital for the survival of our species. Companies like Bayer (the one that manufactures that Aleve you love to pop after a long night out) are pouring millions of dollars into their crop science programs and teaming up with companies utilizing CRISPR technology. You can read more about their initiatives here:

Building Better Blueprints One Gene at a Time

Applications and potential of genome editing in crop improvement

Combined with other great progress in artificial meat and dairy products, CRISPR can be a super tool for diminishing carbon dioxide emissions.

With the holidays coming up, I hope you all will be enjoying a hearty meal at your dinner table. It’s the perfect place and time to start talking about CRISPR.

Let’s recap on why you should care about it:

Please share if this helped stir both curiosity and hope for our future with CRISPR.

CARRE4

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