Originally published in Ecologist.
Alfred Nobel himself might see the irony. The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry – named after the inventor of dynamite and founder of one of the largest bomb factories in the world – has been awarded to researchers who developed the genetic engineering technique CRISPR-Cas9.
Some of the applications of this technology could have such an explosive effect on nature and people that it has been called a “gene bomb”.
CRISPR itself is not an invention. It is a natural mechanism that allows bacteria to recognize viruses. The award-winners J. Doudna and E. Charpentier, published a paper in 2012 describing a means by which this feature of bacteria could be artificially constructed, and added a construct that allows it to cut DNA: Cas9, a “Crispr associated system”.
The design allows genetic engineers to recognize a specific site in the DNA of an organism where CRISPR-Cas9 is introduced and cut the DNA strands at that site. In this way, geneticists can for instance, prevent gene expression and introduce new genetic material, which then result in a new transgenic organism. Read more here.