CRISPR: a Scientific Breakthrough
CRISPR or Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic sequence is considered the biggest breakthrough of 2015 in the field of Science. Many research articles have been written about how the prevailing problem of mosquitoes can be eliminated by CRISPR–Cas9 gene drive and it may even be the last resort against them.
These mosquitoes are reservoirs of pathogens and pose a great risk by acting as vectors in their transmission and thus are indirectly deadly. Some of the diseases spread or transmitted by mosquitoes include dengue fever, malaria, Zika disease, yellow fever, lymphatic filariasis, various forms of encephalitis, tularemia, and chikungunya. Researchers recently have also identified mosquitoes as vectors of the pathogen of Rift Valley fever and the Keystone virus.
There is a lot of scientific research worldwide to prevent disease transmission by mosquitoes. Imperial College London scientists thought of a novel way to destroy these blood-sucking insects by utilizing their own DNA using CRISPR-CAS9 technology. By employing this technique, the scientists’ bio hacked their genetic material and suppressed the population growth of caged human malarial vector mosquitoes i.e., Anopheles gambiae.
Disease transmission occurs only by the female mosquitoes so if in a population if the number of male mosquitoes is increased this will lead to a decline in transmission rates.
The researchers turned the male gene dominant by altering the sex-determining gene in the mosquitos and they were released in a caged normal population of mosquitoes. Due to the release of these hacked mosquitoes, deformities in laying eggs were seen in next-generation females and they could also not bite. Eventually, no females were seen by the eighth generation.
The CRISPR Tool
CRISPR is employed as a bio-hacking tool by bacteria. Originally CRISPR was a mechanism utilized by bacteria to defend themselves from re-invading bacteriophages. This gene-hacking molecular tool utilizes the Cas9 enzyme and gRNA. gRNA helps in binding to the target sequence of the DNA, while Cas9 degrades the targeted region by cleaving it and thus disables it.
This technique of biohacker bacteria has been exploited to degrades certain specific target genes and replace them with a desirable response or to silence it. CRISPR has great scope in repairing genetic anomalies caused due to mutations or defective genes that manifest as different diseases and syndromes.
First CRISPR Clinical Trial
CRISPR can be a great intervention to treat various types of genetic disorders. This molecular technique is in the steps of being termed a legitimate treatment that is even prescribed by doctors. This technology was approved in 2016 by the US FDA and was used to treat cancer patients. They are compatible to fight with cancer by switching off genes in immune cells or boosting their effectiveness.
This molecular technique can also be employed to treat inherited blindness by targeting the responsible gene. It is injected into the affected person’s eye where it can correct the defective gene. If this CRISPR is successful, then it can be utilized to correct many molecular genetic defects, mutations, and disorders like cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
According to the bioethicist, Laurie Zoloth from the University of Chicago Divinity School, a bioethicist states that CRISPR can be allowed for clinical trials as it does not make any heritable genetic alterations.
CRISPR DIY Biohacking
Besides its clinical scope CRISPR has other widespread applications. This bio-hacking tool can be used for the generation of resilient crops, reviving extinct species, and in the production of biofuels.
Since CRISPR targets the genes without any heritable effects its full potential has not been discovered yet. There have been debates over how this technique can be misused for an ethically refuted purpose by creating novel biological species for warfare.
Nowadays, CRISPR lab kits are easily available on the market and are just priced at $150 so it is pretty accessible. These kits also contain an instruction manual on how to use them. So even in the comfort of home, anyone can re-engineer DNA and become a bio-hacker.
CRISPR poses a great potential for the cure of genetic disorders. But it is equally important not to ignore the possible hazards of its misuse and the ethical problems or issues that it may rise.