Explosive revelations in biological research are routine, be it the genesis of the first synthetic life form or the discovery of a new organ in the human body. As scientists encounter new hurdles, they continue to innovate and break barriers. One such innovation generated a method CRISPR, to erase and rewrite DNA, the blueprint of life. How will this technology impact the world?

CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing: Transforming science one snip at a time  © ISTOCK.COM, ELENABS
CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing: Transforming science one snip at a time  © ISTOCK.COM, ELENABS

An oft-quoted proverb featured alongside spectacular innovations is, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Staying true to this mantra, scientists have earnestly tried to transform the status quo.  They have developed novel technologies that could fundamentally alter medical treatments, disease diagnosis, farming, fuel production and more. Sustainable living and cutting down carbon emissions to slow down global warming is the need of the hour. Towards this, researchers have engineered alga, the slimy green layer found atop water bodies, to produce fuel that could propel jets and run cars in the future. Lending a helping hand to farmers all over the world, scientists have developed high yield seeds that can thrive in extremely stressed environments without much maintenance. In the biomedical field, efforts are being made to provide affordable and safe therapies to combat cancer, heart disease, brain disorders etc.

Amongst the multiple existing technologies helping scientists realise these innovations, is the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editor. This technology was conceived and advanced within the past decade, yet the Nobel Prize committee awarded its developers the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This is unusual since scientists usually wait for decades before having their work acknowledged by the Nobel committee. CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing’s versatility, efficacy and novelty combined with its impact on various fields of biological research ushered its rightful felicitation in the halls of path-breaking science.  Though the applications of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing are always in the spotlight, the technology’s origin gets less attention.  One wonders about the genesis of this technology. How does it work and why has it become such a reliable tool in a scientist’s tool-kit?

This story series will begin by introducing you to the fascinating world of bacterial immunity, the study of which opened floodgates that eventually led to the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 editing technology and set in motion a transformation in the field of biological science.

Articles in this series

The Curious Case of Bacterial Immunity: A Crisp Introduction to CRISPR

CRISPR-Cas9 technology: the marvel of minuscule scissors