At the molecular world of bacteria and viruses, war routinely rages as various forms of life attack and try to overwhelm each other. Can you envision how the DNA of an invading bacteria can press an advantage and try to re-program its victim’s life processes?
But suppose as the attacking bacteria starts its assault, the defending bacteria quickly responds by modifying the attacking bacteria’s DNA and genes, using a special process to change and delete portions of that DNA so it becomes harmless. It would be similar to quickly modifying a malicious piece of software you accidentally picked up at a website, and then changing it lightning quick so it cannot infect your computer and important files!
Wouldn’t you think the ability to remove or “snip” out bad genes might be useful to all life forms; like your own if you had a pre-disposition to a disease? Think how the editing of genetic materials would affect the human population if you could identify and then grab hold of a nasty gene in the human genome sequence and simply delete it.
Imagine how cancers and chronic diseases would begin disappearing if you could manipulate the human genome; and if you start this editing process at the embryo level, all subsequent cells that divide from this formative point on will be free of potentially bad cells, and future diseases.
A new gene editing technique called CRISPR, also called CRISPR/Cas9, is showing immense capability, being easier, cheaper and more efficient than previous strategies for modifying DNA. And it is derived from that example at the beginning of this articIe where one bacteria “out-DNA’s” the other!
What is so cool about Crisper is its ease of use and robust nature. High school students are actually doing experiments today in biology labs to knock out genes. Obviously, new biotech start-ups are willing to bet some big money on this promising technology. Genetic materials are also being added to DNA to create new characteristics.
Editor’s Deep Dive
If we can do this in humans and animals, it can also be done with agriculture. Thomas Edison would have certainly found this useful back in the 1920s when he was selectively breeding plants for their oily sap content as he tried to create a substitute for natural rubber, then in short supply and whose host countries were subject to wartime seizure by belligerent nations.