Genetic editing

The genetic scissors cutting through disease

Crispr allows gene sequences to be edited.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Crispr gene-editing technology could revolutionize the pharma and agro sector but many peoplee remain wary of genetically modified products – not to mention embryos.

  • Facts


    • Crispr harness a natural process carried out by bacterial enzymes to cut and edit genetic material.
    • It can be used to cut out or repair gene mutations that cause disease, and to alter genes to improve an organism’s traits.
    • The patent holders of the technology have set up their own rival firms, attracting the attention of big players such as Bayer and Novartis.
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Stem-cell researcher Kathy Niakan became famous around the world last week after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the UK granted her permission to genetically “edit” human embryos.

Dr. Niakan, of London’s Francis Crick Institute, will thus be the first European to intervene in the course of human life – by “editing” the genetic makeup of a days-old human embryo. But she’ll do it for research purposes only. She will be working with the most intriguing tool available in biotechnology: a new method named Crispr-Cas9, which is, in essence, a pair of genetic scissors.

The process makes it easier than ever before to shorten, extend and reshape the “genotype”, the individual’s collection of genes. It also opens up the possibility of creating genetically altered “designer babies” and ultimately redesigning life itself, although Dr. Niakan insists she neither intends to do so or is permitted to do so.

There has nevertheless been a surge of protests against the U.K.’s authorization. Politicians, even stem-cell researchers such as Hans Schöler, director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, warn: “This research will open the door.”

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