CRISPR DNA Editing Technology - D200

From New Media Business Blog

Jump to: navigation, search



The colour of your eyes, the size of your feet, the pigment of your skin and every other physical trait you have is determined by your DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)[1].
It’s made out of just 4 letters: A,T,C and G, but through the millions of different ways they can be strung together, they create all the diversity seen in life on our planet. Segments of DNA are called “genes” and each one plays a different role in building proteins, regulating body functions and determining your physical makeup. Mutations or mistakes in this genetic code of your DNA can also cause devastating diseases such as sickle cell anemia, Cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.

Keeping that in mind, what do you think could be possible if we had access to this genetic code? Could we possibly make edits and deletions in this code that could fix mutations or even change the physical traits of an organism?

Enter CRISPR, the new gene-editing tool that is allowing scientists to accurately make changes to DNA faster, cheaper and more efficiently than ever before.

Explaining CRISPR

What is CRISPR

CRISPR[1]:,(pronounced “Crisper”) which stands for: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, refers to the sequences of DNA used by the bacterial defense system which forms the basis of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. These sequences contain pieces of viral DNA that have previously attacked the bacterium and are used to find and destroy any virus with similar genes. This process works by encoding a guide RNA which attaches to the Cas-9 protein and acts as molecular scissors to cut the identified piece of viral DNA. Through scientific advances, researchers have been able to harness this process to edit the genome of all kinds of organisms and cells. Giving them the ability to make changes and edits in DNA faster, cheaper and more accurate than ever before.

How CRISPR works

CRISPR in Action[3]

CRISPR uses a protein called CAS 9 to form a complex with a guide RNA to cut pieces of DNA like molecular scissors and either edit or delete parts of the genome.

This technique works in a 4 step process[4]:[5]:

1. The guide RNA is coded with a genetic address for where in the genome you want to edit and binds to the Cas-9 protein to make a complex.
2. CAS 9 uses the Guide RNA to attach to a matching DNA strand and find the target sequence of DNA.
3. Once the gene target has been matched, the Cas-9-RNA complex cuts the double strands of DNA.
4. Once the cut has been made, there are two possible paths the DNA will take to repair itself. If the cut was made to simply delete a gene, the DNA strand will reattach to itself without a replacement gene for the one that was lost. However, if the cut was made to edit the genome, a programmed piece of DNA can be inserted into where the cut was made and the DNA will repair itself with the new gene in place.

The History of CRISPR

The discovery of clustered DNA repeats in bacteria began in 1987[6] at Osaka University in Japan, by researcher Yoshizumi Ishino. While examining DNA of E.Coli, he realized these clustered repeats were part of the bacterial defense system of E.Coli and contained pieces of defeated virus DNA in order to stop future viral invasions.

Similar to hanging up most wanted posters, this viral DNA gave the Bacteria the ability to send out a guided defense mechanism, Cas-9 proteins, to specifically identify and destroy these viruses in future encounters.

In 2012[7], Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered that this could be a tool used to edit genes when they re-engineered the Cas-9 system to contain a coded guide RNA to target specific genes in order to make cuts and edits.

In 2013[8], George Church and Feng Zhang from MIT and the Broad Institute were able to use the CRISPR system to edit human cells for the first time. This lead to increased use in a variety of organisms and continued research as the potential of CRISPR had begun to be unlocked.

Applications of CRISPR

Due to CRISPR’s versatility to make edits on plant, human and animal cells, it has the potential to be used in a wide variety of ways. These uses range from healthcare to agriculture to potentially even human modification. Due to CRISPR’s extremely low cost, ease of use, accurate targeting, and speed, scientists believe this exciting new gene-editing tool may disrupt a number of industries as it develops.

Crispr 2.0

CRISPR and Designer Babies

A new discovery with within the CRISPR technology is the development of what scientists are calling CRISPR 2.0[1].

This advancement now allows CRISPR to make changes to the DNA without actually making any cuts or edits to the genome. Instead, CRISPR 2.0 essentially “Blunts” the scissors of the Cas-9 Protein so researchers can write programs that can simultaneously repress or activate certain genes in an organism’s genome.[2]
This can act as a dimmer switch for certain genes which could help to fight diseases or make mild changes without actually changing the genes.

The guide RNA is programmed to seek out specific genes in the liver by reversing the genetic code found in a target strand of DNA. Once it locates this target DNA sequence, the Cas9 enzyme effectively splits the double helix to allow the guide RNA to bind to the DNA. If it’s a good match, this portion of the helix is excised from DNA strand. Usually, the DNA strand tries to repair itself, at which point the CRISPR system does its thing again. This process is repeated until the DNA no longer repairs itself, at which point the targeted gene has effectively been turned off.


Scientists have begun using CRISPR-Cas9 to not just cut out sequences of DNA and replace them, but to instead edit the undesired genetic base itself without altering the entire strand. This highly specific form of gene editing using CRISPR is more efficient and solves a host of problems seen with original methods, mainly unintended mutations caused by off-target cuts.

CRISPR 2.0 in place of conventional CRISPR methods is akin to having one misspelt word in a paragraph, and rather than choosing to rewrite the entire paragraph and taking the risk of making an error elsewhere in the paragraph, you simply fix the misspelt word.

This enhanced process does not have universal gene editing application, as some edits will still require complete removal and replacement of sections of the genome. However, a condition such as Sickle Cell Anemia would greatly benefit from CRISPR 2.0. Sickle Cell Anemia is the result of a single incorrect base in a strand of DNA --- a T that should have been an A. Using CRISPR 2.0, the process of genetically correcting for this condition would be more efficient by not requiring the section of DNA to be completely replaced.

CRISPR and Agriculture

CRISPR for Healthy Seed Development

One of the most revolutionary applications of CRISPR on agriculture is its ability to make gene edits on vegetation.

Taking the evolutionary process of natural selection for example. In natural selection, species of plants that possess undesirable genes that make them more prone to diseases are wiped out, and the remaining variations of these plants with desirable genes continue to live and thrive. Over several growth cycles, more and more plants with undesirable characteristics will die out, leaving only the elite variations to continue thriving and its seeds to reproduce. This process will typically continue on until only the elite plants remain, however this process may naturally take multiple growth cycles and over 8 years to attain a desirable gene variation. This is where applications of CRISPR technology comes in.

With CRISPR’s gene editing ability, it has successfully been able to drastically reduce the time needed for natural selection to take place. With CRISPR, direct edits to the species’ genes can help reduce the time needed for natural selection from over 8 years and multiple growth cycles, to as little as 1 – 2 growth cycles and less than 5 years.

With CRISPR’s ability to directly edit the genes of plants and vegetation, it can help farmers grow healthier, more reliable crops. Also, with CRISPR’s ability to edit the genes of a species, crops will only be needed to be edited for 1 to 2 growth cycles until a favourable variation is produced and can reproduce on their own without the assistance of CRISPR. With this, one can see how quickly and drastically CRISPR can be utilized to revolutionize the entire agricultural industry.

The Controversy on Genetically Modified Organisms and Labelling

Although the ability to utilize CRISPR technology to speed up the process of growing healthier crops is an amazing breakthrough, it has also cause a lot of debate and controversy in the eyes of the public and in Non-GMO advocates. Currently, according to USA regulations, the US department of agriculture defines a Genetically Modified Organism as a product that has had foreign DNA inserted and integrated into an existing organism [2]. However, when using CRISPR, alterations to the vegetation are made without the introduction of foreign DNA as the DNA is simply edited or deleted to attain the desired results. This means that as per US regulations, a “CRISPR edited crop” would not fall under the usual GMO regulations, and may even be considered as “organic” if CRISPR edited products were made available on store shelves.

The controversy in this is that many consumers purposely go to stores that sell organic produce, and are willing to spend extra money to purchase an organic item, however, with the current regulation these consumers of organic produce may not really know if what they are buying is really organic or CRISPR edited. One of the reasons why CRISPR edited produce is not yet available on store shelves, is because the regulations of what is considered as “GMO” or “organic” has not been updated to reflect CRISPR edited products. [3] When CRISPR edited produce is ready to be pushed out and sold publically, this will certainly be one of the concerns that needs to be addressed.

CRISPR in Livestock

Aside from plants and crops, CRISPR can also be used to edit the genes of animals. Much like how CRISPR can be utilized to revolutionize the industry of plants and crops, it can also revolutionize the farming and livestock industry as well. With CRISPR, farmers can improve their current farming practices to become more humane.

Taking for example disease control in animals. One of the major impacts to the livestock and agricultural industry is that 1 in 10 farm animals die from diseases [4], but this can be prevented through CRISPR. Through research, scientists have been able to take the genetic makeup of a certain animal, find out the gene component that makes them immune to certain disease, and edit that onto other animals so that they also become immune to disease. [5]. A current success story can be seen through the prevention of disease in domestic pigs. Domestic pigs are usually prone to diseases like the African swine fever. However, scientists have been able to find out the gene that makes the warthog immune to this disease, and successfully apply it to domestic pigs so that they too become immune. [6] Scientists can then use this same technique to other farm animals by identifying which gene to edit or alter, an as a result, will increase the overall life expectancy of farm animals.

Improvements on Farming and Agriculture

Animals that have been modified[7]

The potential of CRISPR technology has already been successfully documented in many cases, especially in the farming and agricultural industries. The follow examples are some current success stories of how CRISPR technology is being used today.

CRISPR and Salmon

In November 2015, US regulations approved the first genetically altered salmon to be safe for human consumption. This salmon’s genes was altered to speed up its growth process from 3 years, to as little as 18 month to attain its full size. [8] With the salmon as an example for success and to be able to attain approval for safe consumption, it sets an example that through further research, the ability to speed up the growth process of other animals is attainable. Other livestock can utilize CRISPR through the same process.

CRISPR and Cattle Offspring

Aside from the improved efficiency in growth, another current application of CRISPR is that it can reduce the need to slaughter female cattle offspring. In current farming practices, female cattle offspring are culled shortly after birth because they produce less meat than male cattle, yet still take up unnecessary resources. [9] This practice can now be changed as a scientist from the University of California has successfully been able to utilize CRISPR to ensure only male cattle offspring are reproduced through edits in the chromosome.

CRISPR and the Egg Farming Industry

Currently in the the egg farming industry, male chicks are often culled shortly after hatching. This practice is similar to what farmers do to female cattle as, like female cattle, male chicks are useless and a waste of resources to their farming industry. Male chicks cannot lay eggs, so to save resources and space they are often culled very early on. [10] How CRISPR is improving this practice is that scientists have been able to successfully edit a gene in the chicken’s sex chromosome that causes male embryos to glow under ultraviolet light. With this new ability, farmers can now tell which eggs will become female chicks and which will be male, and instead of waiting for both to hatch, they can separate the male chicks and utilize them for other purposes.

CRISPR and the Transportation of Cattle

Cattle are naturally born with horns, and as they grow larger, these horns get in the way when the cattle needs to be packed and transported. To combat this issue, farmers traditionally burn, cut, or remove the horns of the fully grown cattle prior to transport. This process is both painful for the cattle, and dangerous for the farmer. [11] However, with CRISPR’s gene editing abilities, researchers have been able to identify the gene in the cattle that cause the growth of horns and switch them off. With this edit, the horns on cattle no longer grow, and since their genes are edited when they produce the next generation may also transfer these genes and eventually this inhumane practice of stripping cattle of their horns may be completely eliminated.

The Creation of “Super-Animals”

Genetically Modified Dogs

The abovementioned applications of CRISPR focuses more on its practical uses and how it can revolutionize the farming and agricultural industry. However, CRISPR also has been able to successfully create some questionable and controversial things. Take for example China’s utilization of CRISR to create “Super-dogs”. [1]


Elephant-Mammoth Hybrid[2]

CRISPR has also been used for many futuristic applications and studies. Currently a project that scientists are working on is the ability to utilize CRISPR technology to bring back extinct animals. Their current ambition is to be able to bring back the extinct wooly-mammoth.

To bring back the wooly-mammoth, scientists at Harvard plan to create a type of “hybrid-animal”, in which they can combine the genes that give a wooly-mammoth its furriness and the genes of certain existing elephants to create a new elephant-mammoth embryo. [3] With this combination of genes, the new mammoth will not truly be the same as the extinct wooly-mammoth, but it will share very similar characteristics and display many of the same features that the extinct animal had.

Although this is another revolutionary concept, it has again caused a lot of controversy as well as many ethical concerns. Many argue that although the concept of being able to bring back an extinct animal is interesting, they do not see the practicality of bringing that species back. These species died off for a reason, and bringing them back may drastically impact the current animal eco-systems in place. Furthermore, it is hard to predict how other animals will react to these new hybrid species, and if they were to be released into the wild and reproduced, then what may be the consequences.

Overall, de-extinction is a great concept, but until further research can be conducted to concretely explain any impacts or consequences, it will continue to be a discussion of controversy.

Medical Uses


CRISPR’s ability to remove, edit or turn specific genes on or off has incredible potential in the medical industry. Scientists around the world have already begun using the technology to first analyze disease-causing and/or mutated genes in cells and then removing or editing these abnormal genetic sequences. Trials have been completed, with promising initial results, on a wide variety of medical conditions. Majority of the testing [that has been made public] has been limited to human embryos and lab animals such as mice, while just a small number of trials, mainly in China, have been conducted on humans. The following section will focus on medical trials, the different processes being used and their results, and theoretical applications of the technology.

Genetic Diseases/Disorders

Muscular Dystrophy - CRISPR-Gold

In a new study, researchers demonstrated that their approach --- called CRISPR-Gold because gold nanoparticles are a key component --- can deliver Cas9 along with guide RNA and donor DNA directly into the cells of a living organism to fix a gene mutation without the use of viruses, as has been seen in conventional gene editing processes, including CRISPR. The study demonstrated that the technology can repair the mutation that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe muscle-wasting disease [4].

CRISPR-Gold's gold nanoparticles coat the donor DNA and bind to Cas9. When injected into mice, the mice’s cells recognize a ‘marker’ in CRISPR-Gold and import the delivery vessel. Then, through a series of cellular mechanisms, the vessel is released and breaks apart, rapidly releasing Cas9 and donor DNA.

A single injection of CRISPR-Gold into muscle tissue of mice that model Duchenne muscular dystrophy restored 5.4 percent of the dystrophin gene, which causes the disease, to the normal sequence. This correction rate was approximately 18 times higher than in mice treated with Cas9 and donor DNA by themselves, which experienced only a 0.3 percent correction rate.<p/> <p>CRISPR-Gold is a significant improvement over previously published approaches that only removed the faulty part of the gene, making it shorter and converting one disease into another, milder disease.

CRISPR-Gold was also able to reduce tissue fibrosis, which is the hallmark of diseases where muscles do not function properly. It also enhanced strength and agility in mice with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. CRISPR-Gold-treated mice showed a 2x increase in a common test for mouse strength and agility.

The study found that CRISPR-Gold's delivery is safer than viral delivery of CRISPR, which can possibly amplify the side effects of Cas9 off-target cuts. When the research team tested CRISPR-Gold's gene-editing capability in mice, they found it efficiently corrected the DNA mutation that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy, with minimal collateral DNA damage.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy - Human Embryos

A team of scientists, lead by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, are the first-known group to use CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing to correct a disease-causing mutation in human embryos that were not destined for implantation. The United States does not allow federal money to be used for research involving human embryos, but the work is not illegal if it is funded by private donors [5].

The researchers targeted a mutation in a gene called MYBPC3, which causes the heart muscle to thicken. Such mutations cause a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a leading cause of death among young athletes.

Mitalipov’s team also tackled the risk of off-target mutations and the risk of generating mosaics. The researchers say that they have found no evidence of off-target genetic changes, and generated only a single mosaic in an experiment involving 58 embryos [6].

Mitalipov’s team took several steps to improve the safety of the technique. In conventional CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, researchers will insert DNA encoding CRISPR components into cells, and then rely on the cell’s functioning to generate the necessary proteins and RNA. Mitalipov’s team instead injected the Cas9 protein itself, bound to its guide RNA, directly into the cells. This method is similar to that of CRISPR-Gold.

However, it should be noted that the error rate can vary depending on which DNA sequence is being targeted. The MYBPC3 mutation, in particular, was already predicted to produce relatively few opportunities for off-target cutting.

The researchers attempted to reduce the risk of mosaics by injecting the CRISPR–Cas9 components into the egg at the same time as they injected the sperm to fertilize it. This is earlier in development than previous human embryo editing experiments had tried [7].


Mosquito Gene Drive[8]

Though little is known yet of testing and/or results of CRISPR trials on altering or eliminating malaria, it is still an important and interesting notion to consider. One method that has the potential to be successful in this regard is reverse gene drives, which is the use of genetic editing to either remove genes from, or add them to, the germline [part of genome that gets passed on to successive generations]. Essentially, CRISPR technology would be used to analyze the DNA of malaria cells in the mosquito, and remove the mutated genes causing the disease from the germline. This would ensure that not only that specific mosquito no longer carries the disease, but its offspring would not either [9].

In theory, this seems promising. However, the problem with a proposition such as this, as is with many propositions related to germline editing, is the effects it has on not only the species in question, but the ecosystems that species is a part of. Though to the common person mosquitos may be insignificant, and probably a nuisance, they play a role in the ecosystems they live in just as any species does. As of yet, scientists do not know what the removal of malaria DNA would mean for the species of mosquitoes that carry it, as well as what the “ripple effect” would be for other plants and animals. If the removal of malaria cells or the alteration of its genetic structure has an adverse effect on the mosquito species, it could potentially result in significant impacts on organisms that depend on it as a food source, or on plants that rely on it for pollination [10].

Scientists remove HIV from mouse cells

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

HIV has proven extremely challenging to analyze and control because of its ability to hide within human cells undetected for prolonged periods of time before the symptoms of AIDS become apparent. A recent trial conducted in the US using CRISPR, has produced promising results.

Right now patients with HIV must use a series of toxic medications to suppress the virus from replicating. However, researchers have found that HIV DNA can be removed from the genomes of living animals using CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Completely removing the HIV DNA eliminates the risk of the HIV infected cells from replicating and making copies of itself [1].

After just one treatment using CRISPR-Cas9, scientists were able to show the technique had successfully removed all traces of the infection within mouse organs and tissue. This trial is the first to show HIV can be completely eliminated from the body using CRISPR. Even more impressive is that one of the three total trials conducted was on mice implanted with human cells that contained the HIV virus, and the results were similarly successful [2].

The next stage would be to repeat the study in primates, a more suitable animal model where HIV infection induces AIDS, in order to further demonstrate the elimination of HIV-1 DNA in latently infected T-cells and other sanctuary sites for HIV-1, including brain cells. Eventually, should successive trials be successful, the goal is a clinical trial in human patients [3].

Chengdu CRISPR Human Cancer Trial


Scientists have begun using the technology to modify the immune cells in the body to better enable them to fight cancer and to alter cancer cells to reduce their aggressiveness and ability to rapidly replicate.

The first approach, improving the body’s defence against cancer, has seen scientists use CRISPR to genetically engineer immune cells, known as T-cells, to improve the cells’ cancer killing ability. The cells were modified in mice by using a CRISPR vessel to insert a gene into T-cells that express proteins called CARs on the cell surface. This protein enables cells to recognize and attack cancer cells.

Conventional gene editing techniques have used similar approaches, but in these cases the CAR protein is randomly inserted into a T-cell genome. CRISPR delivers a CAR gene to a precise location in the T-cell genome known as the TRAC region --- this region includes the gene that allows the immune cell to detect foreign molecules. The CRISPR system edits out part of the TRAC gene in the T-cells, allowing the CAR gene to insert there, enhancing the cell’s cancer locating ability [1]. In simpler terms, this is analogous to adding a scope (CAR gene) to a sniper rifle (TRAC region of T-cell).

The CAR T cells created with CRISPR were less likely to stop recognizing and attacking tumor cells after a certain time point, a phenomenon researchers call “exhaustion.” Based on three measures of exhaustion, less than 2% of CRISPR-created T cells showed signs of exhaustion, compared to roughly 50% of conventionally engineered CAR T cells [2].

The second approach focuses on editing fusion genes, which are often associated with cancer. A fusion gene is formed when two previously separate genes become joined together and produce an abnormal protein that can cause or promote cancer.

Researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 tech to target abnormal DNA sequences caused by the fusion. The team used Cas9 and guide RNA to cut out the mutated DNA of the fusion gene and replaced it with a gene that leads to the death of the cancer cells. Because the fusion gene is present only in cancer cells, not healthy ones, this form of gene therapy is highly specific to cancer cells [3].

These approaches hold significant advantages over traditional cancer treatment. They are less painful than chemotherapy and more importantly, pose less risk of causing additional mutations. A common problem in chemotherapies is that cancer cells can evolve to generate new mutations. Using CRISPR, the new mutations could also be targeted and controlled.

Concerns of Human Use

The main risks associated with using CRISPR-Cas9 technology on humans is the risk of off-target mutations, and what is known as mosaicism or mosaics.

Off-target mutations are the result of the Cas9 protein cutting in an unintended section of the genome and making unwanted genetic changes. Recent developments and improvements have been to the CRISPR system to either reduce or eliminate this risk [4].

Mosaics occur when embryos are injected with CRISPR but repairs to the mutated genes did not occur until the embryo had already divided and replicated its DNA. This causes a mixture of edited and unedited cells. Essentially, when the embryo divides, some cells inherited unrepaired DNA while some inherited CRISPR-repaired DNA. This is a significant problem, as it means a child could still develop the disease that gene editing was supposed to prevent [5]. As with off-target mutations, improvements have been made in the delivery process of CRISPR to reduce this risk.

"23 and Me" features [6]

23 and Me - Home Kits and Information Privacy

23andMe is a company that sells personal genome tests direct-to-consumer in the form of a saliva collection kit. Customers collect their own saliva in a tube from the kit, and mail it back for processing, Results are provided within 6-8 weeks offering estimates of predisposition for more than 90 traits and conditions ranging from baldness to blindness. 23andMe also recently got approval from the FDA to market Personal Genome Service Genetic Health Risk (GHR) tests for 10 diseases or conditions. These are the first direct-to-consumer tests authorized by the FDA that provide information on an individual’s genetic predisposition to certain medical diseases or conditions [7].

Theoretically, this process, used in tandem with CRISPR technology, could be groundbreaking in the medical industry. Customers could determine predispositions to various conditions or diseases, and have a lab, clinic or hospital [assuming CRISPR technology eventually becomes mainstream] apply CRISPR technology to eliminate or significantly reduce such exposure. The truly amazing thing is that this would cost someone as little as roughly $300.

One concern, which has already arisen with just the 23andMe process, is the privacy and security of customer information. As of now a customer’s genetic information is not sold or made public. However, what if this were to change --- how valuable would such information be to an insurance company, for instance? It seems logical that in such a case, the insurance company would pay an exorbitant amount for this info. Access to this information would potentially allow them to increase premiums for people predisposed to certain conditions.

The Future of CRISPR

In 2013, a patent war began between Professor Feng Zhang from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Professor Jennifer Doudna of the University of California (UC) Berkeley.

In June 2012, Doudna and her team published in the journal Science that they had discovered how CRISPR could be used to edit genomes. The paper suggested that it was both an “elegant and cheap” solution. Zhang published a paper in Science in January 2013 that showed CRISPR-Cas9 working on human cells,[8] something Doudna had not yet done. Later that month, Doudna and her team reported that her team also had success in working with human cells, however, Zhang quickly disputed that his approach was superior. In 2013, Doudna, backed by the University of California filed a patent for CRISPR. Seven months later, Zhang, backed by the Broad Institute, also filed for a patent but paid an additional fee to ‘accelerate’ the filing of the patent. It was announced that Zhang and the Broad Institute won the patent[9]. This was challenged by Doudna and UC, who took Zhang and the Broad Institute to court. As of the time of writing (December 2017) the patent is still being legally disputed by UC that the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board wrongly sided with the Broad Institute.[10]

There currently exist three companies which may benefit when the CRISPR patent is finally awarded. The companies are Intellia Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NTLA) formed by Jennifer Doudna, CRISPR Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CRISPR) formed by Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Editas Medicine (NASDAQ: EDIT) formed by Feng Zhang. These companies are currently being publicly traded on the Nasdaq. When the CRISPR patent is awarded, the winner of the patent will be able to license the patent. While there is no exact indication of how much the patent will be worth, intellectual patent attorney at the New York Law School Jacob Sherkow estimated a value of between $100 million and $265 million for the patent.[11]

Human Modification

In the far future, CRISPR will allow humans to edit the DNA of in-vitro human embryos. This brings with it the obvious benefits of being able to edit out hereditarily transferred diseases. However, it also allows much more than just diseases. CRISPR will allow humans to change virtually any aspect of the genome, which can alter the physical appearance, physiological traits, and psychological traits of the baby. This modification of the embryo is known as creating a ‘designer baby’, whereby parents select all the traits they wish their child to possess. The movie Gattaca (1997) incorporates this mechanic of eugenics, as it features a world of both ‘valids’, modified humans, and ‘in-valids’, unmodified humans. This video (left) is a segment of the movie Gattaca where the traits for a designer baby are being selected by the parents.

Gattaca Designer Babies Scene

In the Gattaca world, ‘in-valids’ exist as a lower social class to ‘valids’, and are forced to work more menial jobs, and are not given the same life opportunities the ‘valids’ are[1][2]. This brings into question of how the world would react to designer babies. There are many societal concerns with bringing designer babies into the world, including how society will react to them. Being genetically superior to regular humans, will society see them as elite and be led by them, or will they be shunned for being unnatural? Additionally, being superior to unmodified humans, how would these designer babies compare with the rest of the world in terms of sports and academia,? Would there be a new type of Olympics just for modified humans, and would there be higher level educational institutes exclusively for them? While being able to completely vaccinate humankind against genetic diseases, and potentially non-hereditary diseases as well, would vastly improve quality of life, what are other consequences? The outcome of designer babies is unknown as of now, as they will be determined by both legislation and societal norms.

Super Soldiers

Another possible application of CRISPR that involves human modification is the creation of super soldiers. The concept of genetically superior super soldiers is prominent in pop culture, with Marvel’s X-Men and Captain America characters being the most notable. Super soldiers would be modified humans who are physically and mentally stronger than regular humans, and would be resistant to hostile environments, including types of chemical and biological warfare. While it is incredibly likely that super soldiers would be illegal in much of the world, they may be developed by organized crime groups to be sold on the black market or by a dictatorship to form an army. The concerns regarding super soldiers are countless, and include: how would they be controlled, what if they are unable to be controlled and disobey, what do they do if there is no war, what happens if they become a part of society, and what happens if they reproduce? While super soldiers are a very unlikely occurrence, their prominence in fiction makes it worth discussing the concept.

Anti and Reverse Aging

Humankind has always been fascinated with the concept of immortality, shown by attempts of alchemy throughout history, and the many myths that feature elixirs of life and fountains of youth. This concept was also featured in the novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), whereby the philosopher's stone, an alchemical substance, would grant immortality. While CRISPR is unable to grant immortality, it is able to slow the ageing process down, and potentially reverse it. The gene responsible for aging has been identified by scientists. In 2016, researchers at the Salk Institute reversed the ageing process in mice, prolonging their life by on average 30%. [3] They also declared that human trials will be ready in approximately 10 years time. While the process of stopping and potentially reversing aging can greatly improve quality of life, it also brings issues with it. The primary concern being that with people living longer, will this push to exceed the carrying capacity of the planet? How will this increasing population be fed, and where will they live? These answers are currently unknown, but they may be solved using the help of CRISPR.


Editing of humans is an equivalent of opening pandora's box. Once it begins, it will be unstoppable, and inevitably become a part of society and culture. While humankind has always pushed for the next eureka moment, it is important to think of what are the consequences of what we are doing. In the movie Jurassic Park (1993) Dr. Ian Malcolm says “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”[4]. This quote applies to not only human editing, but using CRISPR to edit DNA as a whole. Is there a benefit to what changes we make, or are we simply making changes in the name of scientific discovery? And regarding the changes that we do make, what impact will they have on science and society moving forward? These are important questions to keep in mind when changing how plants, animals, and people are fundamentally built.

The following the 2017 Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, which shows emerging technologies and their stage of development. CRISPR would fall under 'Human Augmentation', which is more than 10 years away. This shows that even though CRSPR is a technology that won't reach prominence until far in the future. Even though we are still years away from being able to fully utilize CRISPR, it is important to know about what it is, what it is capable of, and what the implications of it can be capable of.

Gartner Hype Cycle 2017[5]


Nolan Wallinger Harvey Sidhu Angus Wong Cameron Inglis
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada


Personal tools