Imagine a world where there is no illness. No down syndrome, no dementia, no huntington’s, no haemophilia. CRISPR is by far the biggest revelation in biological science that no one has heard of and it may just help to create an illness-free world.
CRISPR is a new technology which allows changes to be made in the genes of plants, animals and even humans. Technology like this is not new but advancements have drastically reduced the time taken and the cost of making these changes, making them much more accessible.
Think about it: we now have the ability to remove harmful or unwanted traits from humans with more accuracy then we could have dreamed of 50 years ago.
So what can we use it for?
Like children with a brand new toy, many huge discoveries about what we can achieve with this technology have already been identified. Scientists from Oregon Health and Science University have successfully corrected a gene mutation in human embryos that is linked to a dreadful heart disorder called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
And the advancements don’t stop at disease. CRISPR has the potential to end world hunger; by creating new drought-tolerant, long lasting, pest resistant crops which could feed millions world-wide. CRISPR may even allow us to bring back long extinct species like the woolly mammoth or the carrier pigeon. It could wipe out the entire species of malaria-carrying mosquitos and help to develop new, stronger antibiotics.
However there are many concerns about the possible abuse of CRISPR and how it may create a ‘brave new world’ of designer babies and ideology.
As Freeman Dyson, an esteemed theoretical physicist and mathematician said, “Every orchid or rose or lizard or snake is the work of a dedicated and skilled breeder. There are thousands of people, amateurs and professionals, who devote their lives to this business. Now imagine what will happen when the tools of genetic engineering become accessible to these people”.
So is CRISPR the scientific redemption of the human race? Or the solemn harbinger of a science-fiction-like world? The answer certainly isn’t black and white. However, as new discoveries continue to be made we will be forced to decide when to draw the line between necessity and greed.