Emerging gene-editing technology is primed to turn the scientific community into an army of Victor Frankensteins.
A three-year-old technique called CRISPR has experts in genetics and genomics saying the world is on the precipice of revolution.
“We’re basically able to have a molecular scalpel for genomes,” biologist Jennifer Doudna told Tech Insider on Wednesday. “All the technologies in the past were sort of like sledgehammers. … This just gives scientists the capability do something that is incredibly powerful.”
Doudna is credited with being one of the co-discoverers of CRISPR, or “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”
“Most of the public does not appreciate what is coming,” Doudna told MIT Technology Review in March.
Wired magazine warned of the ethical problems posed by CRISPR in July’s “Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.”
“The technique is revolutionary, and like all revolutions, it’s perilous,” writer Amy Maxmen said. “It could at last allow genetics researchers to conjure everything anyone has ever worried they would – designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons, and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi tropes. It brings with it all-new rules for the practice of research in the life sciences. But no one knows what the rules are – or who will be the first to break them.”
The technique has already been used to stop certain cancer cells from multiplying, protect plants from fungi and mildew, and reversed mutations that cause blindness, the magazine reported.
Dustin Rubinstein, the head of a lab working with CRISPR at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, told Tech Insider the applications for gene-editing are endless. Other experts told the website that labs could probably alter a species’ DNA for less than $2,000.
“You’re only limited by your imagination,” Rubinstein said. “We live in a much more disrupted world, things aren’t top down. What’s going to stop the next Bill Gates from tinkering in his garage?”