…someday a book will be written about what it felt like to have lived in a scientific revolution like the one we are all of us living in right now. Do not let the freak show off our current politics blind you to history…
There’s a good reason why the powerful CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool has earned the moniker of being ‘revolutionary’.
The relatively easy technique for cutting and pasting genes has exploded onto the scientific scene, and over the past years there’s been no shortage of spectacular results delivered thanks to this amazing tool. Just this year alone, researchers have made advances in fighting diseases, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, mosquitoes and much more.
1. For the first time, scientists have used gene editing to successfully remove HIV from a living organism, and they did this in three different animal models. Using CRISPR, the team got rid of the virus DNA and cleared up both acute and latent infections.
2. The first ever semi-synthetic organisms have been developed by breeding E. coli bacteria with an unusual six-letter genetic code instead of the typical one with just four bases. The researchers used gene editing to make sure bacteria would not register the new DNA molecules as invaders.
3. CRISPR has been used to successfully target the ‘command centre’ of cancer – the hybrid fusion genes that often trigger abnormal tumour growths. By cutting and pasting, researchers created a cancer-busting gene that actually shrunk tumours in mice carrying human prostate and liver cancer cells.
4. With the help of CRISPR, scientists also recently managed to slow the growth of cancer cells. They targeted a protein called Tudor-SN that helps cell division, and think this technique could help inhibit fast-growing cancer cells.
5. Gene editing has been used to make viruses force superbugs to kill themselves. By arming bacteriophage viruses with genetic sequences that contain antibiotic resistance genes, researchers have been able to trigger self-destructing mechanisms in bacteria that naturally try to protect themselves from phages.
6. Mosquito-borne diseases could become a thing of the past thanks to gene editing. Scientists have found a new way to limit the spread of mosquitoes by hacking their fertility genes, and they attribute the success to the efficient way CRISPR can make several genetic code changes at once.
7. Researchers have managed to edit out Huntington’s disease genes in mice, efficiently reversing signs of the fatal condition. It’s entirely likely that this brilliant technique could one day be used on humans as well, after demonstrating this promising first step.
8. Apart from medical breakthroughs, CRISPR could also give us the gift of more abundant, sustainable biofuels. Scientists recently used a combination of gene editing tools to engineer algae that produce twice as much biofuel material as their wild counterparts.
9. If you’ve watched the first-ever movie encoded in DNA code, you have CRISPR to thank for this advance, too. Just recently, scientists finally managed to turn cells into a ‘molecular recorder’ as they used gene editing to embed sequences of information into the genome of E. coli.
As all amazing technology, CRISPR has also sparked concerns, especially as we’re getting ever-so closer to routinely using it in humans. But scientists have also discovered an ‘off switch’ for the process, which allows to stop the mechanism in its tracks.
And if you’ve heard that CRISPR can cause hundreds of unwanted mutations, that study was probably wrong anyway. We can’t wait to see what incredible advances this tool will bring next.