Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues presented the findings of an experiment on bacterial genes that had been conducted in test tubes exactly ten years ago this week. The research article was published in the journal Science on June 28, 2012, however it did not hit the front page of any major newspaper. In point of fact, during the course of the subsequent several weeks, it was completely absent from the news.
When Dr. Doudna thought back on it, she wondered whether the odd title that she and her colleagues had selected for the study—”A Programmable Dual RNA-Guided DNA Endonuclease in Adaptive Bacterial Immunity”—might have had something to do with the error that was made.
Dr. Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, was asked about his thoughts on the article’s title during an interview. He responded by saying, “I believe if I were writing the paper today, I would have selected a different title.”
The result was not at all obscure; rather, it pointed to a new way for editing DNA, a process that may potentially make it able to modify human genes.
Within the span of only ten years, the CRISPR system has emerged as one of the most important discoveries in contemporary biology. Cancer biologists are utilising the technology to uncover previously unknown weaknesses of tumour cells; this is one example of how quickly this discovery is altering the way medical professionals investigate illnesses. CRISPR is being used by medical professionals to modify genes that are responsible for inherited disorders.
According to David Liu, a scientist at Harvard University, “the age of human genome editing is not approaching.” [Citation needed] “It’s in this room.”
However, the significance of CRISPR goes well beyond the realm of medicine. The technology is being used by evolutionary scientists in order to research Neanderthal brains and to explore the process through which our ape ancestors lost their tails. Plant scientists have altered seeds in order to create crops with increased levels of certain vitamins or with increased resistance to disease. Within the next several years, it’s possible that some of them may be available for purchase at grocery stores.
Because CRISPR has been so successful in such a short amount of time, Dr. Doudna and her partner, Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the year 2020. The prize jury praised their work from 2012 as “an experiment that will go down in history.”
Dr. Jennifer Doudna predicted early on that CRISPR would give rise to a variety of difficult ethical concerns, and after a decade of the technology’s development, those questions are more pressing than they have ever been.
Will the next wave of CRISPR-altered crops feed the globe and provide assistance to underprivileged farmers, or will it merely profit agribusiness behemoths that invest in the technology? Will medication based on CRISPR be able to improve the health of disadvantaged people all around the globe, or will it come with a price tag of one million dollars?
The most important ethical dilemma raised by CRISPR concerns the potential for future generations to manipulate human embryos via the use of the technology. Before 2018, when a biophysicist in China by the name of He Jiankui altered a gene in human embryos to impart resistance to HIV, this concept was nothing more than an intellectual exercise. In the city of Shenzen in China, three of the genetically altered embryos were surgically implanted into women.
In April, MIT Technology Review published an article stating that he had only lately been let free. There is very little information available on the wellbeing of the three children, who are now toddlers.
The scientific community is unaware of anybody else who has followed Dr. He’s lead – at least not at this time. However, as CRISPR technology continues to advance, altering genes in human embryos may one day provide a therapy that is both safe and effective for a wide range of illnesses.
When this happens, will it become permissible, or even common practise, to correct disease-causing genes in an embryo in the laboratory? What if a parent wished to infuse their child with characteristics that they considered to be more desirable, such as those linked to height, eye colour, or intelligence?
Francoise Baylis, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, is concerned that the general public is not yet prepared to engage with issues of this kind.
She spoke such words while expressing her scepticism about the level of comprehension regarding the matter at hand.