From promise to reality: 10 years after breakthrough, a CRISPR solution to problems of health begins to take shape

Source: The post is based on the articleFrom promise to reality: 10 years after breakthrough, a CRISPR solution to problems of health begins to take shapepublished in Indian Express on 14th September 2022.

What is the News?

In the 10 years since the CRISPR technology has been developed, it has begun to deliver on its unlimited potential which will help in improving the quality of human life.

What is CRISPR Technology?
Source: Indian Express

CRISPR is short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

It is a ​​powerful gene editing technology which replicates natural defense mechanisms in bacteria to fight virus attacks using a special protein called Cas9.

Working: CRISPR-Cas9 technology behaves like a cut-and-paste mechanism on DNA strands that contain genetic information. 

– The specific location of the genetic codes that need to be changed, or edited, is identified on the DNA strand, and then, using the Cas9 protein, which acts like a pair of scissors, that location is cut off from the strand.

– A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself. Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process, supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes that binds itself with the broken DNA strand.

Applications: It has many potential applications, including correcting genetic defects, treating and preventing the spread of diseases, and improving the growth and resilience of crops.

How is CRISPR technology being used in different sectors?

Health: Several therapeutic interventions using CRISPR for diseases like thalassaemia or sickle cell anaemia have gone into clinical trials, mainly in the United States, and the initial results have been flawless.

In India, researchers at CSIR’s Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology have indigenously developed a CRISPR-based therapeutic solution for sickle cell anaemia, which is now being readied for clinical trials.

Agriculture: ​​Japan has approved the commercial cultivation of a tomato variety that has been improved using CRISPR-based intervention.

– In India, several research groups are working on CRISPR-based enhancements for various crops including rice and banana.

What are the ethical concerns related to CRISPR Technology?

In 2018, a Chinese researcher disclosed that he had altered the genes of a human embryo to prevent the infection of HIV. This was the first documented case of creating a ‘designer baby’.

This has caused widespread concern in the scientific community because: 

1) Preventive interventions to obtain special traits are not something that scientists currently want the technology to be used for, and 

2) The changes were made in the embryo itself which means the newly acquired traits were likely to be passed to future generations. CRISPR is not 100% precise and could induce a few errors as well, making changes in other genes. This has the possibility of being inherited by successive generations.

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