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What is CRISPR and how does it work?

CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) the latest technology in genome editing.

Just think of it this way – you’re an assistant in a publishing firm. Your boss tells you that there’s a spelling mistake in this new manuscript you just received, and wants you to edit it before it’s published into an ebook. Let’s say it’s Harry Potter, and the spelling error is “Alwaysd” instead of “Always” from the famous reply by Snape to Dumbledore’s “After all this time?” question.

Problem is, you’ve got the whole HP series in one file. You’ve never read the series before so you don’t know it’s from the last of the seven books, Deathly Hallows, and its in chapter 33. What do you do? Do you scroll to random pages and try to see if you’re lucky enough to find the mistake? That would be inefficient because it’s not accurate and efficient. Do you start reading everything in hopes you find the spelling mistake? That would be accurate, but still not efficient. Do you Ctrl+F for “Always”? You can, but that would give you many return results. You still need to sieve through all the results manually.

Instead you Ctrl+F ” “After all this time?” “Always” which will bring you to exactly where you need to be so you can make the edit in an instant. You can also Ctrl+F other mistakes that your boss has identified by simply changing the search query. You don’t need to read the whole manuscript again just to find it.

That’s what this new technology does. Previously, we had no efficient way of targeting a single DNA base to mutate. With the new CRISPR technology, we are able to introduce a mutation in any gene we want at any base we specify. We can do this with great accuracy and efficiency now compared to previous technologies. And say, if we want to change a different gene to edit, we can easily alter the system in a matter of hours to days (compared to the previous technologies which might take up to weeks or months to be successful.) We can even edit multiple genes at one time! That’ll be like doing multiple search queries at one shot!

Thank you to “veryfascinating” from Reddit for the excellent description

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What do you think will be future implications of using CRISPR technology will be (good and/ bad)?

I think this and other new methods of gene-editing will be widely used in some areas of medicine. However, we will need to learn much more about DNA before this can happen. For example, the same gene can affect many different traits (a concept called pleiotropy). There are some examples where a gene may have have a positive effect on one trait and a negative – on another. This obviously calls for much caution for any gene editing. Having said this, there is much research that is going on right now to use genetics to understand how we can target specific cells, for example, so that we can deliver drugs directly to where they need to go.

If you’d like to know more, this┬ávideo might be of interest