CRISPR And the Looming Bio-Disruption

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CRISPR And the Looming Bio-Disruption

We’ve now entered the second phase of the Fifth Techno-Economic Revolution, following the painful transition phase that began with the Dot-Com crash. The next 20 years will be a period of unprecedented rising affluence around the world.

As explained in our book, Ride the Wave, three of the most important technologies enabled by this revolution are Genomics, Bio-reengineering and Synthetic Life. These technologies are the result of a rapidly accelerating learning process over the past

60+ years. We began to understand the basic rudiments of the genetic code in the 1950s and by the 1970s, we were able to painstakingly read DNA segments and splice genes. In the 1990s, we succeeded in sequencing the first human genome at a cost of over $1 billion. In the 2000s, we made that process routine and began dramatically reducing the costs, However, one of the biggest problems with the therapeutic use of this technology remained the high error-rate involved in editing genes.

Then, just five short years ago, Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley and French microbiologist, Emmanuelle Charpentier, startled the bio-world with a new technology called CRISPR-Cas9. That technology essentially solves gene editing-error problems and opens-up many new possibilities. Soon after it was first re- ported in the journal Science, CRISPR-Cas9 ushered in the long-anticipated moment when humans could, for the first time, bioengineer themselves.

CRISPR is a tool that enables scientists to target a specific area of a gene, working like the search-and- replace function in Microsoft Word, to remove an “undesired” section and insert a “desired” sequence.

Despite ongoing legal disputes over commercial rights, CRISPR has increasingly become the tool-of- choice for those seeking to modify genes in humans and other organisms. Among other things, it has been used in experiments to:

  • make mosquitoes resistant to malaria,
  • genetically modify plants to be resistant to disease,
  • explore the possibility of engineered pets and livestock, and
  • potentially treat human diseases including hemophilia and leukemia.

However, CRISPR is still in its infancy. General safe- ty issues which still need to be worked out include the possibility of “off-tar- get” edits that occasionally occur in stretches of DNA outside the intended location...

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