CRISPR stands for ”Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats”. This is shorthand for CRISPR-Cas9. CRISPR are specialised stretches of DNA, and the protein Cas9 is an enzyme which acts like a “molecular pair of scissors”, allowing for the cutting of strands of DNA.
English, please? Essentially, CRISPR technology allows for gene-editing, which could have huge implications in the future. If you were to edit genomes in a person, you could change how their body functions. For example, you could hypothetically treat genetic defects and diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anaemia, or Huntington’s Disease by removing the ‘faults’ and replacing them with healthy DNA. This would only work on the individual you treated with CRISPR, but if you were to edit the genomes in human embryos, sperm, or eggs, the effects would impact not only the person the embryo grows into, but also passed down to their future children – meaning the potential to eradicate genetic defects entirely. This could be completely life-changing for millions of people around the world, but there are ethical concerns of editing genes in embryos and cells.
Plus, where do you draw the line? Will we use this technology just for medical purposes, or will we use them for our own selfish, materialistic needs? Will we end up making super-humans by combining the genes which give Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson’s strength, the Queen’s lifespan, and David Attenborough’s voice, in a ginger-haired body which is capable of tanning? Only time will tell.