Jennifer Doudna
Dr Jennifer Doudna (Source: Wiki Commons)

Is this the person of the century? The TERRIFYING implications of CRISPR/Cas9.

See follow on: Using CRSPR/Cas9 to cure Muscular Dystrophy

So what is the story of the century? What’s happened in the first fifteen years of this century that they’ll still be talking about in 2115 or even 2215?

Let’s personalise this. Who will people still be talking about in 2115?

Will it be Donald Trump? How about Osama Bin Laden? Will anyone in 2115 still remember George Clooney or Yolanda Foster?

I suppose people will still remember Barack Obama, America’s first Black President, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Xinping. But what about Joe Biden? My guess is he’ll be reduced to the proverbial footnote in history along with Osama Bin Laden which is more than Donald Trump can expect.

Here’s someone I think they’ll still be talking about in 2115. Her name is Jennifer Doudna and she’s one of the co-inventors of CRISPR/Cas9.

OK, so what is CRISPR/Cas9 and why is it so important?

CRISPR/Cas9 is a really neat way of editing genes. If you want a short explanation of how it works see:

(Source: Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas9 McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT)

For good or ill I cannot imagine any technology developed so far this century that will have a more profound impact on humanity. Here are just some of the possibilities it opens up:

  • Genetically engineered organisms that can mop up the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (More of that later)
  • Cures for cancer. (Yes really. See for example ‘Designer cells’ reverse one-year-old’s cancer).
  • Designer babies – for good or ill they’re coming
  • Biological warfare – there’s a dark side to all technologies

In truth most of the applications are still “unknown unknowns”. We just don’t know where this technology will lead. All we can say for certain is that it will change the world as we know it. Here’s Jennifer Doudna herself discussing the future of CRSPR/Cas9:

Genome-editing revolution: My whirlwind year with CRISPR

And what is my personal view?

It’s exciting.

It’s also just plain TERRIFYING.

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