It seems like new technological innovations crop up daily – but there’s one among the pack that could drastically alter human life: CRISPR.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, we’d like to take a moment to dispel any notions that CRISPR gene-therapy is going to result in a horrifically mutated global populace where the only recourse is death itself. Yes, gene therapy is incredibly power – no, it doesn’t mean we’re going to Cronenberg ourselves into living as puddles of flesh due to some horrific experiment gone wrong.
The concept of gene therapy is a simple, yet incredibly powerful one: alter the human genome for the better. If we look at ourselves as being “written” by nature, the parallel begins to emerge. When an error is made in the writing – the code – horrible maladies can arise. These illnesses are often life-altering, and lifelong. They inflict chronic pain and disability on their host, offering only methods of coping with, but never surmounting, the illness.
However, with gene therapy, we could easily go back in to the genome, find the error in question, and amend it with the correct sequence as if we were proof-reading a written work. Once the errors were remedied, the detrimental effects would subside and the patient would be left healthy once more.
CRISPR is far from the first method of gene therapy, but it has proven to be one of the most effective. It stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It is based on the Cas9 RNA-Guided DNA endonuclease enzyme found in archaea and bacteria. If reading the above gave you a migraine, worry not – we’ve got you covered.
CRISPR utilizes the same system by which bacteria that posses Cas9 deal with foreign bodies and invaders: by keeping a shotgun above the mantle and a bible by the nightstand. Just kidding. In reality, they behave as part of the bacterial immune system, using repeating sequences of genetic code to identify and attack intruders. In short, it identifies something that shouldn’t be there, cleaves it out, and leaves a “space” where it was – containing only relics of the invaders genetic code.
CRISPR utilizes the same Cas9 system but applies it to humans. When administered medically, it would allow medical professionals to identify the genetic intruder – such as cancer – and correct the “type” in the genetic code. It doesn’t take much to see how far-reaching the implications could be.
If CRISPR proves to be as reliable as it claims, it’s only a matter of time before gene-therapy becomes widespread and inexpensive. As such, lifespans will undoubtedly expand, and humanity will see the abolishment of diseases that have plagued us throughout history.
A powerful concept, but what could that mean for the future? If it’s possible to omit or replace a segment of the gene code, wouldn’t it also be possible to add to it? To fashion a Human Body 2.0, if we could? It’s hard to press on without dropping us into some sort of Huxleyan utopia/dystopia, but the writing is on the wall: soon, we’ll be playing God with the very stuff that we are made of.