What is it?

CRISPR is a part of the bacterial immune system that allows bacteria cells to integrate short fragments of DNA from their surrounding environment (usually from "viruses" that attack them) into their own DNA.  Scientists like Jennifer Doudna have figured out how to hijack this mechanism and now use it to modify human DNA.    

What can it do?

Human genes can be thought of as either "on" or "off". "On" means they are doing things in the body, typically creating proteins that effect our cells - and thus us. They can also enhance or suppress the work other genes do. CRISPR is a tool that can turn genes on or off at will, or even insert new genes into our DNA.     

What are its limits?

Imagine a word document that would fill 2 CD's all made up of letters A, C, T, & G in different patterns.  CRISPR has the ability to find one exact letter in one exact place, and "snip it out" (turning a gene "off"). It can also drag along a piece of DNA and place it in between the cut it makes (turning a gene "on"). CRISPR is an insert and delete key for our DNA, and it's amazingly accurate.  

What are the risks?

That depends on what's being done. If you were turning off a gene in your body that 99% of humans already had turned off (maybe to cure a life-threatening disease) the risks would be pretty minimal. Better still, you could likely expect zero side-effects.  If you were inserting salamander DNA so you could regrow limbs, that would be significantly more risky. In either case, if things went badly, you could always just "send in another CRISPR" and reverse the change. Think of that as the undo key.      

Are CRISPR changes instant?

No. it takes our skin about a month to replace the 37.2 trillion cells that make it up. Other organs take longer to "turn over". If you injected a CRISPR edit, only some cells would be changed, but when they divide you'd have twice the number of edited cells to carry forward the change. Over time the change would make its way though the body. More injections would speed things up. Technically, you could just rub CRISPR in your skin, or take a bath in it, but that would be quite slow. 

Can I "pass it on" to my kids?

Scientists have placed a moratorium on editing the human "germ line" with CRISPR. This means anyone respecting that "wait for now" ban wouldn't edit sperm or egg cells, so changes made to a parent would not be passed down to their children. For the time being, any edits you might make to your own DNA, would end with you.    

The future is probably a different story. We'll have to wait and see.

Is this GMO?

Yes. Just like any other tool genetic editing can be used for good or bad. GMO has had it's share of bad press and fear for sure. Allow us to show another side to this story. Please meet Emily (Our favorite GMO). 

What about the Ethics?

This is a huge question. At eDNA we believe this science has barely scratched the surface of what it will become. Considering the NCBI database lists over 49,000 human variants that are known to cause disease, then take into account that we only really understand about 1.5% of human DNA. Let alone what questions arise when we start combining plant or animal DNA with our own or even "3-D print" entirely new DNA. The ethical questions that come out of this are sure to be huge ones, and many of them.

You didn't answer the question.

You're right, we didn't... and we won't. 

EDNA believes we have no business answering ethical questions, or even trying to structure how to start asking them. In the past scientists and governments have decided these things. With the invention of the Internet and its' power to connect humans, we feel it's time people had a say in what's right and wrong. 

So we formed a Community. Please join us, and your voice will be heard.

More CRISPR Resources

On-Line CRISPR Ordering

Addgene Logo

Addgene provides a searchable database of high-quality plasmids, pooled libraries, and plasmid kits, available at affordable prices. All plasmids in Addgene’s repository are sequenced for quality control purposes... Scientists can request plasmids through Addgene’s online ordering system. As of 2016, Addgene also provides ready-to-use AAV and lentivirus preparations of commonly requested plasmids

Another CRISPR Source

OriGene Technologies ... flagship product is the cDNA clone collection, a searchable gene bank of over 30,000 human full-length TrueClone cDNA collection and over 25,000 TrueORF cDNA clones. From our TrueORF cDNA     clones, we have developed the broad offering of full length human proteins expressed in mammalian cells, ideal for functional studies. In 2010, OriGene initiated the TrueMAB™ project to develop mouse monoclonal antibodies against protein antigens with the goal to develop protein assays for every human protein.