You have probably heard a thing or two about the gene-editing technology CRISPR. CRISPR is short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat. This refers to the distinctive organization of short, partially palindromic repeated DNA sequences found in the genomes of bacteria and other microorganisms.
This tech allows scientists to cut and alter DNA of any cell. The reason CRISPR has become so popular is because it’s significantly easier than earlier versions of gene editing. Let’s check out a few examples of a few bizarre and perhaps unexpected ways CRISPR is being used today.
Bulking up animals
Scientists in China have been using CRISPR to eliminate genes that obstruct muscle growth and hair in goats. They have been doing this to grow the country’s commercial wool and meat industries. They are testing this on various animals including dogs but the reasons remain unclear. They ultimately would like to combine genetic engineering and cloning to expand livestock and agriculture in China.
Turning pigs into organ donors
Who wants a lung from a pig? Anyone? Anyone? As you can imagine, it’s been a bit of a controversial idea when it comes to animals providing organs to solve the organ shortage. In the past, these attempts have been unsuccessful because the human body rejects foreign tissue and infections from the animal may transmit to the patient. Scientists believe CRISPR may be the answer to solving this problem.
A company called eGensis spun out of Harvard is using CRISPR to make pig organs suitable for human implantation. Several pig organs such as the heart and lungs are similar to those of humans. They are using CRISPR to get rid of a variety of viruses found in pigs and to modify genes associated with the immune system to prevent our bodies from rejecting these organs. Thus far, the company has produced several virus-free pigs but the possibility to implant pig organs into humans is still said to be quite some time away.
Making plants bigger
Humans have been trying to improve disease resistance of crops for centuries. Thanks to CRISPR, researchers are experimenting with ways to improve this and environmental stress tolerance. Scientists at Rutgers University are working on genetically modifying wine grapes and turfgrass. They are hoping through their research will find methods that can be implemented in a variety of other crops.
They are planning to use CRISP to edit the grapes to resists downy mildew and resist dollar spot disease which is typically combated with fungicides. If this turns out to be a success, scientists may be able to develop more wholesome crops to amplify the agricultural industry.