We are living in an age in which we are achieving the dreams of our ancestors from a couple of generations back. Technologies that were once considered to be science fiction are now commonly used, and even more are in development. So, of course, we have to reward those with exceptional results in the field, and this year it was the genome editing technique CRISPR to get the Journal Science’s ‘Breakthrough of the Year’ award.
- In April, the Chinese group edited the genome of the first human embryo
- There is hope that the upcoming Washington DC summit will change the law regarding research on human embryos
- The CRISPR–Cas9 technology has made genome editing extremely easy and affordable
- Many large companies have already invested in the technology, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google Ventures
During its yearly awards, the journal Science has declared the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to be the biggest scientific breakthrough of the year.
This means that it overshadowed the creation of a new Ebola vaccine, the discovery of two new species of human, and new information regarding black holes gathered by NASA.
Even though it has been created a few years ago, it was only this year that the CRISPR-Cas9 technology managed to yield its most impressive results.
And yes, that is results in plural, as the technology managed to create not one, but two amazing and controversial techniques.
The first thing the Chinese team accomplished was to alter a sequence of genes so that it effects entire populations of individuals.
The second breakthrough consists of altering the genome sequence of an embryo so that it passes on the modified genes.
Both techniques are potentially extremely useful, but also extremely destructive.
They have enormous potential, being able to alter DNA in order stop the spread of illnesses, as well as limit the threat of harmful species, like pests. However, in the wrong hands, the technology could create a world-wide wave of destruction and death.
Other uses for the technology would the editing of embryos in the womb, leading to the extremely challenging ethics dilemma of customizable children.
It has the potential to completely wipe out diseases, but also that to wipe out humanity via a genetically engineered disease. So you see how the potentially extremely beneficial technology can be used for devastating purposes if it is to fall into the wrong hands.
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