Imagine a world where, just like in food, human genes can be edited, giving people the power and ability to eradicate genetic disorders, but also unjustly provide a portion of people in the future with advantages over others. For better or for worse, this is likely to soon become a reality, with the recent invention and refinement of the genome editing tool ‘CRISPR-Cas9’.
Every aspect of who we are is determined by our genes, which are tiny units of heredity made up of DNA, which act as instructions for the production of proteins. It is estimated that humans have approximately 20,000 to 25,000 genes in total and although most of our genes are the same between all humans, the 1% or so that aren’t, are what gives each of us our individual traits. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and was originally discovered in certain species of archaea in 1993 by Francisco Mojica. Between then and 2013, scientists across the globe worked on developing a way to use this discovery to their advantage, ending up with CRISPR-Cas9. It differs from all previously developed gene editing tools and techniques because it requires considerably less time and effort to execute, and is substantially cheaper. The actual process does not require a lot of human involvement, because Cas9 (the enzyme that alters the gene) is “led” by guide RNA to the correct location, making CRISPR-Cas9 the most accurate gene editing tool yet.