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Genetic find and replace with CRISPR: Technology that will revolutionize medicine and agriculture

By Andi Horvath

Molecular biologist Prof Jacob Corn describes how gene editing is carried out with CRISPR-Cas9. He explains why this technology has the potential of revolutionizing the treatment of diseases such as sickle cell anemia and malaria. Besides human health, CRISPR-Cas9 can also contribute to improving agriculture and, consequently, food security. Jacob also discusses the possible ethical challenges posed by the widespread application of gene editing.

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ANDI HORVATH
I'm Dr Andi Horvath, thanks for joining us. Today we bring you up close to the world of cutting edge gene manipulation technology and in particular, one called CRISPR. Whilst it sounds like a kitchen appliance for deep frying, it's actually a revolutionary precision tool for genetic engineering, useful in both disease research and therapy. Adding to the soup of acronyms, we need to include Cas9, which is a protein that, as we'll hear, has supercharged the power and utility of CRISPR.

Advances in genetic engineering up till now have allowed for the manipulation of genes, but translation from the lab to human gene therapy has proven elusive. Meanwhile, gene editing has been really slow to go from the lab to the clinic, but now we have the awkwardly named CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPR harnesses a natural process found in bacteria, which have for eons been doing their own splicing of foreign genes and DNA self-repair. It is, in fact, bacteria's way of dealing with virus attacks. If a bacterium survives a virus attack, it can better its chances in future attacks and it does this by tucking away a virus gene sequence...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.