This week, two scientists were awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry for a tool that revolutionized science. The Nobel prize committee recognized Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their work in editing the genome. Their important work in Chemistry led to the discovery of the “genetic scissors” known as CRISPR/Cas9.

So, What is CRISPR?

CRISPR technology diagram

CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” CRISPR is a powerful tool that researchers routinely use to this day. The technology allows scientists to edit the genomes of plants and animals—effectively altering their DNA sequences. Specifically, the technology permits researchers to cut DNA at predetermined sites. Despite the complexities of DNA, the technology cuts the DNA with an extremely high degree of accuracy. By predictably altering DNA sequences, researchers can change the function of genes.

Before the discovery of CRISPR technology, researchers had relatively few tools to edit genes. Such tools available at the time were time-consuming and expensive to use. However, with the discovery of CRISPR technology, the process was transformed into a relatively simple and cost-effective method.  

Since the discovery of the method back in 2012, CRISPR research has exploded. Today, almost, if not all, areas of biomedical research use CRISPR technology. Notably, CRISPR technology has gone on to aid scientists in fighting several diseases, such as cancer and malaria. Other areas of research, such as in the development of biofuels and enhanced crop production, also use CRISPR technology.

CRISPR and its Controversy

However, ethical dilemmas exist, as well. In particular, in 2019, a Chinese scientist edited the genome of twin girls before birth. Such editing of the human has led to conversations in several scientific communities about such technology’s ethical limitations.

Congratulations!

Congratulations again to the two scientists who were awarded the Nobel prize, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, for their discovery. Their technology has ushered in a new generation of scientists. Congratulations to all of the Nobel prize nominees. I can’t wait to see what advancements in technology are just right around the corner.