CRISPR Technology: Terrific or Terrifying?

Dhristi Raval ‘20

In recent years, a dilemma has taken over the world: is utilizing CRISPR technology to edit genomes morally justified? CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” In organisms such as archaea and bacteria, CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences that can be found in their genomes. 


With this technology, researchers edit DNA sequences and, consequently, gene function. On one hand, people argue that CRISPR technology can enable correction of genetic defects and treat many diseases. On the other hand, some argue that there are many ethical concerns involved. 


CRISPR technology involves the usage of the protein Cas9, which is an enzyme that can cut strands of DNA. Researches adapted the idea from the natural defense mechanisms of archaea and bacteria, which utilize the Cas9 protein to protect themselves from attacks and viruses, which work by inserting copies of their own DNA into the cell and are able to reproduce when the cell transcribes that DNA and makes new virus components.. A 2017 research paper was the first to thoroughly explain the process. 


CRISPR is known for its presence of nucleotide repeats and spacers. Nucleotide repeats are distributed in the CRISPR region, and spacers are small pieces of DNA that are spaced among the repeated sequences; the Cas9 protein uses these sequences to pinpoint the sections of data it wants to cut out.  


For many reasons, CRISPR technology has become popular in recent years. It is known for its relative simplicity, and it is four times more efficient that TALENS, the next-best editing tool. It also has the potential to aid crop growth, which would be of great benefit to third world countries. Many are also fascinated by the prospect of reducing or even eliminating the incidence of diseases and genetic disorders in humans. 


However, some claim that the ethical dilemmas outweigh the pros of CRISPR technology. People from various religious groups believe that this technology opposes the natural order of things and that artificial changes will have dangerous and harmful long-term consequences.