Imagine a cute kindergartner cutting out different bright colored papers and gluing them together to make the “perfect” snowman. Now imagine that scene but instead, a scientist cutting out pieces of DNA and editing your own genome to make the “perfect” you! Crazy right, but this thought that might have been dismissed as fairytale 100 years ago is now tangible. This technology, known as gene editing, is a cure for all diseases and research on it should continue. Gene editing, a type of technology that allows one to alter an organism’s DNA, is a relatively new method, but one that has gained popularity form both its devout supporters and the skeptics.
This technology is based on something known as CRISPR-Cas9, “a bacterial immune system”, that is used as a gene-editing tool. This tool, first discovered in 2012, “consists a DNA-cutting enzyme called Cas9 and a short piece of RNA that guides the enzyme to a specific spot that scientists want to edit.” CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a group of DNA sequences in bacteria. “The sequences contain snippets of DNA from viruses that have attacked the bacterium.”. The segments are of prokaryotic DNA base sequences, with the sequence of the nucleotides the same in both directions.
The CRISPR-Cas9 system provides resistance to the foreign genetic elements present in plasmids and phages. This whole system, used as a gene editing tool, has let to much talk about its morality, and if it is against ethical codes. Genome editing has many applications to it, ranging from the simplest to the most complex of sorts. For example, gene mutation/knockout is the simplest form of gene editing that utilizes the error-prone nature of NHEJ to introduce small indels at the target site. This form of gene editing, according to Maeder et al., can be used to help treat diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, and even HIV. Other forms of gene editing such as gene deletion and gene insertion have been discovered.
Genome editing is not solely for curing genetic diseases, it has a wider scope that is hidden by the glamour of genetic diseases. Gene editing has been used to create animal models, which have decreased and reduced compared to the traditional methods. Agricultural breeding has been another application of the genome editing, Genetic engineering has been used to create crops and plants with desirable traits, such as disease and drought resistance, that can result in a decrease in pesticide, water, and fertilizer usage. Despite the wide scope of applications that gene editing provides, there are still some large and problematic questions that need to be answered. Some say that genome editing is tantamount to playing God and is downright unethical. Another major thought to keep in mind is the idea of limiting genetic diversity and that genome editing could ruin the natural form of human evolution.Although these concerns are important to keep in mind, the research on genome editing on humans must still continue, as the American Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Alfred Hershey, who was born my home state of Michigan, once said, “ideas come and go, but a method lasts.”