CRISPR, a genome-editing technology that has been progressing rapidly in the last three years, has just been named Science’s Breakthrough of the Year. CRISPR is a futuristic technique that can be used to edit and manipulate the DNA of any organism—crops, livestock, and even humans. It can allow scientists to control gene expression and selectively turn genes on or off.
In 2015, two significant advances contributed to CRISPR’s status as this year’s Breakthrough technique. The first was the engineering of a “gene drive” in insects that could benefit human health by eliminating pests and the diseases they carry. The second was gene editing performed in human embryos, a process that sounds like something out of a science fiction novel and raises a host of legal and ethical questions about the manipulation of human DNA to create customized offspring.
CRISPR is not only remarkable for its ability to manipulate the DNA of a targeted organism, it is also remarkable because it is an extremely inexpensive and relatively easy technique to use. In terms of the resources it requires, it could be implemented in almost any microbiology lab worldwide.