CRISPR-Cas9 is a revolutionary technique in the world of science. What is CRISPR-Cas9? Discuss its potential applications and the apprehensions associated with the use of this technology.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a revolutionary technique in the world of science. What is CRISPR-Cas9? Discuss its potential applications and the apprehensions associated with the use of this technology.
Approach:
  • Introduce with discussing the CRISPR-Cas9 technique.
  • Point out the areas where this can be helpful.
  • Discuss the apprehensions associated with this technology.
  • Conclude appropriately.
Model Answer :
CRISPR-Cas9 is a genome editing technology that is based on the natural defense mechanism of archaea and bacteria. It enables us to edit parts of the genome by adding, removing or altering sections of DNA sequence. In this process, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats(CRISPR) is the mechanism at work and Cas9 protein is an enzyme that is used as molecular scissors. It is regarded as a simple, cost-effective and precise method of genetic manipulation.
Applications:
The CRISPR-Cas9 technique can be used in the following areas:
Health:
  • It can be helpful in treating diseases like cancer, hepatitis B, etc., which are associated with genetics.
  • It holds the potential for germline editing in the future paving way for personalized healthcare.
  • Genetic defects like cataracts can be treated with this method.
  • It can facilitate organ transplant from animals to humans and can also enable the creation of human organs in animals like pigs, facilitating limitless supplies for emergencies.
Agriculture:
  • It can be used to enhance yield, climate change tolerance and nutritional properties in the crops.
  • In food processing industries it can be helpful to engineer probiotic culture.
Other applications:
  • Gene Drives, i.e., genetic systems where a particular trait can be passed from parent to offspring, can be developed. For e.g., it can be useful in controlling diseases such as malaria by enhancing sterility among vector mosquitoes.
Concerns:
However, there are several apprehensions associated with this method:
  • The prominent ethical concern is related to the Germline editing, posing unintended consequences for future generations. For e.g. it can be exploited to produce designer babies.
  • Despite being the most effective too,l so far it is not yet proved to be 100% effective.
  • There are chances of ‘off-target effects’ where unintended DNA site can be edited, giving rise to unknown mutations.
  • The concept of Gene Drive can lead to spreading of an induced trait to other organisms in the environment.
  • Gene Drives can also reduce the genetic diversity of the target population.
The use of CRISPR-Cas9 in somatic cells can give path-breaking results, but with respect to the germline editing, we should be cautious. Proper risk assessment and more research in this area is the need of the hour to reap its potential benefits.

Subjects : Science and Technology

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