A new genetic technology called CRISPR may enable scientists to make permanent changes in a person’s DNA. Here’s everything you need to know:
What is CRISPR?
It’s a revolutionary gene-editing technique that enables scientists to snip out a piece of any organism’s DNA cheaply, quickly, and precisely — cutting and editing the code of life the way a film editor would splice an old film reel.
Developed at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012, CRISPR offers great promise, because it could provide a true cure for debilitating hereditary diseases such as Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, and sickle-cell anemia. But it is different from traditional forms of gene therapy in one key sense: CRISPR can be used to edit genes on the human germ line, so that those changes are passed down through generations — permanently altering the human gene pool.
That capability has given new urgency to theoretical discussions about designer babies, mutants, and scientists “playing God.” In December, an international group of scientists called for an immediate moratorium on inheritable human genome editing until CRISPR’s risks have been assessed. “Everything I’ve learned here says we’re not ready to be doing this yet,” said Nobel Prize–winning biologist David Baltimore.
How does CRISPR work?