What is CRISPR?
By Olivia Ortlieb
On October 7th, 2020, scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were honoured with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in recognition of their development of CRISPR, a revolutionary gene editing software. The prize was well-deserved, as CRISPR is one of the most promising developments in chemistry in recent years. Read on to learn more about this spectacular software and how it could change the world in the years to come!
What is it?
In essence, CRISPR is a software program that allows the user to modify the DNA of living things with a high degree of precision. Scientists can use this program to edit genes and thereby influence the traits that organisms possess. CRISPR is not the first platform to have these capabilities, but what really sets it apart from other methods of gene editing is how simple and accessible it is compared to its predecessors. With CRISPR, scientists can edit genes within days rather than weeks or months, and at a much lower cost. It’s also very precise and can be used to manipulate tiny strands of DNA with ease.
How does it work?
CRISPR is first used to scan the cell to find the DNA that is to be edited, which can be done very quickly using algorithms after the user enters some information on the organism that is being edited. CRISPR then sends out a molecule called RNA, which can be used to interpret the information stored in DNA. The RNA molecules locate the strand of DNA that will be edited within the nucleus of a cell. They then release a Cas9 enzyme, which snips up the DNA at the intended location. The cell will then repair the breakage in the DNA, which will either disable the gene, fix a problem with the gene, or replace it with a new gene.
How could it make an impact?
CRISPR has transformed gene editing from a prohibitively expensive, complicated, and time-consuming venture to one that could be used in high school labs. It will allow scientists to increase their knowledge of genes more quickly than before, since they can edit genes and analyze the results within a much shorter time frame. Thanks to CRISPR, we will likely see an increased flow of useful developments such as better pest-resistant crops, more powerful antibiotics, and genetically healthier farm animals. However, CRISPR also carries some risks, as we still do not fully understand genetics, and the software’s unparalleled accessibility means that it could be more easily misused.
Considering all of the advancements that CRISPR has brought to the gene editing field, we can look forward to the many exciting developments that it will make possible in the years to come.
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