Stunning, revolutionary, momentous: these are some of the adjectives sprinkled by leading international journals over CRISPR. In the last few years the new technique of genetic modification has been mentioned in hundreds of studies, not counting the articles published in the lay press. The keyword CRISPR (pronounced crisper) produces 6 million Google search results. Being the author of a book and a blog on the topic I can be dubbed as a genome-editing-enthusiast, but the title and logo I’ve chosen for my news and views diary are a way of kidding about the frenzy. The mug standing out on the homepage echoes the famous claim “Keep calm and carry on”. Keep calm and crispr on. When major scientific achievements arrive, or unexpected obstacles come between, because there are always some, or controversy erupts over this or that application of the technology, it won’t be the end of the world. Don’t panic and keep on crispring.
I admit that I’ve considered more serious names. In fact while messing around with WordPress to start the blog, I tried the title proposed by a friend and it was nice: Life(R)evolution. It would have been a cool claim, perfect to convey the take-home message: genome editing is a revolution but also an evolution of what was already going on in the field of life sciences. It is a quantum leap, but it didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere. Behind it there is the long story of biotechnology, beginning decades and even centuries ago. I eventually decided to turn to the frenzy claim, because CRISPR is a trendy phenomenon among researchers, techno-enthusiasts and nerds. It has been printed on T-shirts and mobile covers, it’s celebrated in YouTube videos and a US channel is even considering a tv drama about it. We have a community of people Crazy4Crispr and have got to have a sense of humour.
An ironic touch might be a cure for arrogance, but let’s make it clear that I’m fully aware of how deep the technology implications are. Indeed this blog will talk about very serious matters, such as genetic disorders, human embryos manipulation, plans for deliberate extinction of harmful organisms, the need for a social consensus on rules that hopefully won’t stifle innovation. Health, food, bioethics, ecology, R&D, democracy. We’ll try to learn from past mistakes in the communication of biotechnology, by avoiding emphatic tones that would contribute to partisan polarization in the debate. The magic wand of CRISPR will not solve all the problems of the world, neither will open a Pandora’s biotech box. Some ideas are going to work, others won’t, and researchers will keep on trying new ways. After all tomorrow is another biotech day.
(Featured image: Vasava for Nature)