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CRISPR Has Started to Change Our World, With Much More to Come

CRISPR” (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and researchers have developed a new version, CRISPR-Cas9, to edit the base pairs of genes. Gene editing will change our world in ways we can't even imagine yet, and its already started. Mike Mcrae has a piece in Science Alert about ways scientists are adopting CRISPR technology in medicine, agriculture and the environmental sciences. And after successful tests in monkeys, researchers will begin using the gene editing tool on humans sometime this year to treat blood disorders like sickle-cell disease and beta thalassemia.

The first CRISPR based products will be available soon and they will revolutionize diagnostics. For instance, Mammoth Biosciences announced in April that it will be the first company to use CRISPR technology to detect diseases. Mammouth is using the technology to create test kits to diagnose diseases like malaria, some types of cancers, strep and the flu.

Of course, there are concerns about gene editing, especially since there are so many applications for the technology and research is moving so quickly. There needs to be effective oversight as we approach human trials. But, like in most things, the question will be finding a balance between safety and allowing innovation to flourish. Bill gates spoke to that recently:

Bill Gates in his recent article in Foreign Affairs: "Over the next decade, gene editing could help humanity overcome some of the biggest and most persistent challenges in global health and development. The technology is making it much easier for scientists to discover better diagnostics, treatments, and other tools to fight diseases that still kill and disable millions of people every year, primarily the poor. It is also accelerating research that could help end extreme poverty by enabling millions of farmers in the developing world to grow crops and raise livestock that are more productive, more nutritious, and hardier. New technologies are often met with skepticism. But if the world is to continue the remarkable progress of the past few decades, it is vital that scientists, subject to safety and ethics guidelines, be encouraged to continue taking advantage of such promising tools as CRISPR."

CRISPR's potential is almost limitless and it will change our very notion of what is possible in our relationship to the world around us. But, we must have the wisdom to use it prudently.

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