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Current Affairs

Nobel prize for CRISPR technology

Date: 09 October 2020 Tags: Honours & Awards

Issue

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier of France and American Jennifer Doudna for developing CRISPR technology.

 

Background

The CRISPR (short for the rather inelegantly named Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology for gene-editing has been triggering tremendous excitement ever since it was developed in the year 2012.

 

Details

  • The technology can potentially eliminate genetic, and other, diseases, multiply agricultural production, correct deformities, and even open up the more contentious possibilities of producing ‘designer babies’, and bringing cosmetic perfection. In effect, anything that is linked with functioning of the genes can be corrected, or ‘edited’.

  • Editing, or modifying, gene sequences is nothing new. It has been happening for several decades now, particularly in the field of agriculture, where several crops have been genetically modified to provide particular traits.

  • But what CRISPR has done is make gene editing very easy and simple, and at the same time extremely efficient. And the possibilities are nearly endless.

 

Method of application

  • It locates the specific area in the genetic sequence which has been diagnosed to be the cause of the problem, cuts it out, and replaces it with a new and correct sequence that no longer causes the problem.

  • The technology replicates a natural defence mechanism in some bacteria that uses a similar method to protect itself from virus attacks.

  • An RNA molecule is programmed to locate the particular problematic sequence on the DNA strand, and a special protein called Cas9, often described in popular literature as ‘genetic scissor’, is used to break and remove the problematic sequence.

  • A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself. But the auto-repair mechanism can lead to the re-growth of a problematic sequence.

  • Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process by supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes, which replaces the original sequence.

  • Because the entire process is programmable, it has a remarkable efficiency, and has already brought almost miraculous results. There are a whole lot of diseases and disorders, including some forms of cancer, which are caused by an undesired genetic mutation.

  • These can all be fixed with this technology. There are vast applications elsewhere as well. Genetic sequences of disease-causing organisms can be altered to make them ineffective. Genes of plants can be edited to make them withstand pests, or improve their tolerance to drought or temperature.