The title may be baffling, but the recent chemistry Nobel Prize won by Dr.Jennifer Doudna and Dr.Emmanuelle Charpentier has a deep connection with a south-indian movie that I saw called “Ezham Arivu” or in English “7th sense”. It is all about transforming our human blueprint (genes) or gene editing to better our lives.
Let it be COVID-19, cancer, HIV, genetic disorders, etc, the experience of people suffering from it is like a nightmare. We have an endless list of such heartbreakers without a vaccine or a permanent solution. What if genetics can transform these? A dream of every humane human. Here comes our CRISPR/Cas9, biotechnology’s sharpest tool, this year Nobel winner, to give a helping hand.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindrome Repeats (CRISPR) /cas9 helps to alter, update, delete our code of life (DNA) similar to any editor or SQL commands in the database region. Now how does it work? CRISPR, a part of bacteria’s immunological system, responds to any incoming threatening virus and produces a customized RNA, which can translate DNA into proteins. With the help of the Cas gene producing the Cas9 enzyme, it chops the virus’s DNA.
In simple terms, they are scissors to cleave any DNA in a controlled manner and CRISPR/Cas9 ‘s adaptability and usability can contribute to this aspect.
Hopes include editing the CCR5 gene, which is the target spot of HIV viruses, bone marrow gene editing in case of sickle cell disease, etc. It can even stop further requirements of blood transfusions in the case of sickle cell disease.
COVID-19 brought to our attention, more than curing the disease, “memory cells” that can produce antibodies to counter future virus attacks are required. A vaccine candidate with that ability is considered efficient.CRISPR/Cas9 can create such cells to fight future attacks. CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) introduced the covid test kit “Feluda” based on this technology.
Mega testing labs to speed up COVID-19 testing with accuracy greater than RT-PCR tests were in the news recently. They are based on Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) machines.NGS is another technology used to examine CRISPR-induced effects. It checks off-target effects and target genome sequences to confirm the quality of work. NGS cost affordability makes it wholesome.
Apart from the positives, there are certain negatives. Genetic modifications made to embryos with CRISPR/Cas9 are called germline editing and ethical concerns are raised on this matter. Nevertheless, if used in a legalized way, it can pave the way to success.
Countless applications of this can break many barriers to human life. We can even imagine that it triggers a subculture called “biohacking”. Even though existing medical norms and laws demand extensive tests to prove its reach, everyone can give a standing ovation to this technology regarding current results.
After all, “Health is Wealth”.