CRISPR-Cas9

A glance at the year 2050

In 2012, Jennifer Doudna created CRISPR-Cas9 technology for gene editing. It harnesses Cas9, a protein which acts as genetic scissors, and guide RNA, which finds the part of the genome the protein needs to cut. CRISPR-Cas9 is found in a bacteria called Streptococcus and is used to slice the DNA of invaders to prevent infection. Through the selection of certain guide RNA strands, this mechanism can be used with multicellular organisms to alter specific parts of the genome.

Now, almost 40 years later, this same technology is being used to play God. Last week the first blue-haired baby was born in Berlin. The boy’s genome was edited as an embryo using targeted CRISPR-Cas9 editing. He remains in hospital, undergoing tests until he remains stable for an extended period of time. Critics say that editing the genome at such an early stage is irresponsible, because changes can be passed down for generations.

2050 also marks the beginning of a new era of war. Pakistan has started development of ‘supersoldiers’. Pakistant’s Chief of Army issued a statement saying: "The United States develops technology, we develop superhumans." Denmark, Netherlands, France and Germany have formed a union within Nato which refuses to take part in the development of "Superhuman soldiers." However, a high ranking member of the French Armed Forces alleges that a meeting took place between his/her superiors and Beam Therapeutics, a company specialising in CRISPR-Cas9 technology.

In this age of change we need to listen to the creators of CRISPR and proceed with the utmost caution.