Long Night of Science 2019
What can we use CRISPR for?
As part of an installation with information on CRISPR, we asked the following questions on the current or possible future uses of genome editing. Here are the answers (as of June 2019) and links to further information!
Learn more about what genes do?
Scientists are using CRIPSR as a tool to change genes and their activity in order to learn about their functions in both health and disease.
Learn more: The wired guide to CRISPR
Switch genes on and off without leaving a trace?
Yes, modified Cas proteins can be used to change the activity of specific targets while not altering any DNA sequence.
Find out more here:
Store non-genetic data like GIFs in DNA?
Yes. DNA has been used as storage device before, and all kinds of documents have been encoded in the genome of living cells. CRISPR enabled the encoding of more complicated data, like the temporal order of the individual images in a movie.
Make disease-resistant bananas?
Very likely. In fact, we may not be able to eat bananas as we know them for much longer -- if we don’t make changes to the heavily inbred crops that equip them to deal with new viruses or changing climate.
Learn more: A CRISPR approach to saving banana
Engineer allergen free eggs?
In the works. By slightly altering the egg white proteins that lead to allergic reactions, chicken may lay eggs that are not attacked by the immune system of affected people.
Learn more: 10 Unusual Applications of CRISPR Gene Editing
However, last year, the EU decided in a landmark ruling to consider CRISPR modified products as traditional genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with very strict constraints. This ruling was a surprise to anybody, as changes introduced by careful application of CRISPR are smaller than naturally occurring changes across generations -- and certainly smaller than the changes we humans have introduced over thousands of years of selective plant breeding.
Read more on this ruling: Der lange Schatten der Ideologien
Resurrect the wooly mammoth?
Sort of. Scientists have been able to extract pieces of DNA from sufficiently preserved fossils, and introducing mammoth genes to a living relative like an elephant may lead to a close copy.
Very likely. In lab conditions, researchers used CRISPR to reduce the fertility of Anopheles females (the mosquito that transmits the malaria parasite). Across several generations, the fertility of the mosquitos got smaller and smaller until they went extinct.
Treat (lung/leukemia) cancer patients?
Very likely. A few lung and leukemia patients have been successfully treated already and a number of clinical trials that will use CRISPR to treat a number of different types of cancers are either ongoing or planned for the near future.
Treat a viral infection like HIV?
In the works. In animals, both viral infections were relatively successfully treated and there are currently ongoing human clinical trials for treating HPV and HIV infection.
Change DNA sequence in human embryos?
Very likely. A chinese scientist reportedly altered the DNA sequence of fertilized eggs of couples undergoing in vitro fertilization, change a gene that provides increased protection to HIV infection. This was seen as grave misconduct by the scientific community: altering all cells of an organism (and hence passing on changes to later generations) is considered a violation of ethical and safety standards.