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The Hopes And Hurdles Of CRISPR And Gene Editing

Scientists are working to develop crops better-suited to the changing climate, like these sprouting barley embryos that have received spliced genetic material derived through the CRISPR-Cas9 editing process.
Scientists are working to develop crops better-suited to the changing climate, like these sprouting barley embryos that have received spliced genetic material derived through the CRISPR-Cas9 editing process.

Scientists have long contemplated a future where genome editing could alter the building blocks of our world to help humans live longer, healthier lives.

That dream is no longer a possibility, but a reality, thanks largely to the discovery of CRISPR and its ability to edit DNA. In 2020, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery, the first pair of women to do so.

In late June, scientists took a leap forward in proving CRISPR’s power as a medical tool. Study results published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that a one-time injection of the gene-editing system was extremely effective at treating patients with a rare genetic disease.

CRISPR is also being widely used in agriculture. Scientists are building genetically modified crops that are better suited to the changing climate.

However, the hopes of CRISPR also bring significant, ethical hurdles that the international scientific community will have to face.

Genome editing is a powerful, scientific technology that can reshape medical treatments and people’s lives, but it can also harmfully reduce human diversity and increase social inequality by editing out the kinds of people that medical science, and the society it has shaped, categorize as diseased or genetically contaminated–people…who are understood as having bad genes.

What promise does CRISPR hold in the coming years? And how do we manage its possible perils?

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