To Be Dangerous with Crispr Takes a Lot of Genetics Knowledge

(p. A11) “I frankly have been flabbergasted at the pace of the field,” says Jennifer Doudna, a Crispr pioneer who runs a lab at the University of California, Berkeley. “We’re barely five years out, and it’s already in early clinical trials for cancer. It’s unbelievable.”

. . .

Scientists have fiddled with genes for decades, but in clumsy ways.

. . .

Crispr is much more precise, as Ms. Doudna explains in her new book, “A Crack in Creation.” It works like this: An enzyme called Cas9 can be programmed to latch onto any 20-letter sequence of DNA. Once there, the enzyme cuts the double helix, splitting the DNA strand in two. Scientists supply a snippet of genetic material they want to insert, making sure its ends match up with the cut strands. When the cell’s repair mechanism kicks in to fix the cut, it pastes in the new DNA.

. . .

A . . . Crispr worry is that it makes DNA editing so easy anybody can do it. Simple hobby kits sell online for $150, and a community biotech lab in Brooklyn offers a class for $400. Jennifer Lopez is reportedly working on a TV drama called “C.R.I.S.P.R.” that, according to the Hollywood Reporter, “explores the next generation of terror: DNA hacking.”

Ms. Doudna provides a bit of assurance. “Genetics is complicated. You have to have quite a bit of knowledge, I think, to be able to do anything that’s truly dangerous,” she says. “There’s been a little bit of hype, in my opinion, about DIY kits and are we going to have rogue scientists—or even nonscientists—randomly doing crazy stuff. I think that’s not too likely.”

For the full interview, see:

Peterson, Kyle, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; The Gene Editors Are Only Getting Started; Would you eradicate malaria-carrying insects? Change your baby’s DNA? Scientists soon may have the power to do both.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 8, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 7, 2017, and the same title as the print versio.)

Doudna’s book, mentioned above, is:

Doudna, Jennifer A., and Samuel H. Sternberg. A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

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