Refining, chiselling, correcting DNA letter by letter. You can do it simultaneously in dozens of selected sites, or in one place, leaving no trace. A new kind and powerful technique is changing the face of biology. Cheap and easy to handle but precise as a laser. It allows reaserchers to change living organisms as they wish, by carefully targeting their DNA. It doesn’t bombard them by means of random mutations, it doesn’t cut and sew the DNA in a traditional way, as in the past. Will it transform medicine, agriculture and the world as we know it? Enthusiasm and fears are chasing each other, and this book explains the unfolding revolution. Welcome to the age of CRISPR.
In origin it was a system invented by bacteria to defend themselves from viruses, and it is by studying microbes that we discovered it, quite by accident. Behind the obscure name hides a surprisingly simple biological process. The creativity of researchers has turned it into a tool for our needs. It’s the equivalent of the command “find and replace” of a word processor, removing typos from the book of life. This is why it’s called “genome editing.” The technology is not yet so efficient to fulfil all our desires, and some challenges could never be within our reach, explains Anna Meldolesi in her book. But if it keeps even a small part of its promises, genome editing will allow an infinite number of experiments, giving us knowledge, drugs, products that are going to improve our quality of life. The problems raised by CRISPR, however, are not trivial ones. When we are able to change genes at will, how do we prevent this technology from falling into wrong hands? The first experiments on human embryos have already been carried out and the debate is just beginning. Are “designer babies” a real risk? Would it be a dream or a nightmare if man creates man?