One of the most exciting advancements in the world of gene-editing is CRISPR technology. It provides opportunities for innovation across many fields. CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” and refers to the scientific process by which a section of DNA with special characteristics is “cut” by a protein, most frequently one called Cas9. Guide RNA leads the protein to the correct location which then allows scientists to use DNA’s repair mechanism to alter the DNA. In this article, we will discuss fields that can benefit from gene-editing technology.
Worldwide concerns like population growth and climate change threaten food supply and distribution. Scientists using CRISPR technology seek to overcome drought, disease, and poor yields in crops. At NC State University, for example, Samuel Acheampong is using CRISPR technology to develop a larger sweet potato by regulating the flow of sugar to the roots. Eventually, he intends to study diseases that affect sweet potato varieties native to Africa in order to strengthen the plants’ resistance to them. He also wants to increase beta-carotene levels in this diet staple.
Other scientists are developing a rice variety that yields 25-30% more per plant while protecting it against harsh climate conditions. There’s current research into modifying the banana against a worldwide fungus that’s dramatically affecting the world’s supply.
CRISPR technology has been used to manipulate cells for genetic diseases like sickle cell, macular degeneration, and cystic fibrosis. Research has shown that scientists can remove cells, perform the gene-editing sequence, and reinfuse those cells back into the body. A June 2021 trial study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that participants with a rare and fatal disease called transthyretin amyloidosis had a significant decrease in the disease-causing protein after a cell-editing treatment directly in the body. Investment into biotechnology is skyrocketing to take advantage of rapid advancement in the field of disease research.
Human Genome Editing
Thoughtful and careful study into genome editing applications for humans is ongoing. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is willing to permit clinical trials for the editing of an embryonic genome for serious conditions under stringent oversight. Ethical arguments against editing DNA in an embryo include the concern that the resulting change can be passed to future generations without their consent, or that the process could be used for selecting more “desirable” traits rather than just treating disease or serious conditions. Scientists continue to work within shifting ethical understanding as technology advances.
A research study run by scientists from Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), UC Berkeley, and Vilnius University developed a hand-held device that uses CRISPR technology to examine specific points on the DNA. This could allow for the detection of conditions such as sickle cell, cancer, or ALS. It can also potentially diagnose disease risk in a smaller, more accessible medical device.
Advancements in CRISPR technology are challenging the minds of thousands of scientists. Learning more about this remarkable technology is vital for important innovation across many industries.