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One of the most exciting, and scary, new technologies in medicine today is CRISPR, or gene editing, which has dramatically improved how scientist genetically modify organisms. CRISPR is an abbreviation for clustered regularly interspaced short palindrome repeats. There are a few variations, but -Cas9 and -CPF1 are the most well-known. First, some background. As we have learned so far, all organisms have molecules inside them that are called DNA. It is the pattern of these different molecules of DNA, also known as the genetic code, which supplies the directions for constructing organisms. Inside, tiny little machines, RNA, read the genetic code and use those directions to make every part of the organisms, thus allowing it to reproduce and grow. Since DNA is a proverbial “blueprint” for organisms, we—as in humanity– are able to change them and create results that are visible in the new organism. Unfortunately, making a change to a blueprint is far easier than introducing a new segment of directions into DNA. While scientists can impact DNA when it is secluded from an organism on its own, there is no way to shape a new organism around newly created DNA. Therefore, in order to adapt an organism, scientist need to get to the DNA inside the cells while not killing them.Another problem exists, in that, cells do not appreciate having arbitrary bits of DNA pushed towards them. This is seen as a threat and results in the destruction of that DNA. Instead, the new DNA needs to be merged or incorporated. Scientists have found that the best results occur when they were able to add a bit of new DNA inside the cell, break the cell’s original DNA, and finally get the cell to fix the broken DNA by utilizing the inserted new DNA—cells already have the ability to repair DNA cuts on their own. Originally this was done using electricity or soap to temporarily “pop” the cell’s membrane. Only, that doesn’t really work for humans, though it did work for bacteria and single cells. And breaking the DNA was originally done with hazardous chemicals which allowed the DNA to break in random places, but that was crazy dangerous because it could result in cells dying. Therefore, the invention of CRISPR is so insanely important. CRISPR is a combination of DNA guide and scissor-like protein, which allows it to only cut from a very specific site that is chosen by the scientist. Meaning, scientists can cut a specific portion so as to turn off a gene or cut where there is absolutely nothing but junk and then insert foreign DNA. So, what does CRISPR mean? In bacteria, there are tiny palindromes in the genome. For example, it may read: CGTATTxxxxxxCGTATTxxxxxxCGTATTxxx, where the “CGTATT” is the short palindromes and the “x”, are other sequences. CRISPR describes the DNA sequence that is noticed in bacteria. Cas9 is a protein that’s full name is “CRISPR Associated protein 9.” Essentially, it is an amazing protein that makes so much possible for biotechnology, though it is not the only CRISPR protein. Cas9 has three fragments: the protein scissors (Cas9), the RNA guide (gRNA), and the repair template, which is simply the blueprint DNA. CRISPR allows for the editing of DNA in a very precise way which was originally not viable. This means, once perfected, CRISPR will be able to cure genetic diseases by changing the root of the problem, DNA. Of course, the ethical problem, and the worry of many is that CRISPR will also be used for other nefarious purposes, such as creating “designer” babies. Are you overweight, not that smart, and want blonde hair and green eyes? No problem with CRISPR, if you have the money. 

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