Consider the tomato: When tomatoes become ripe, they fall to the ground and become bruised, or worse: rotten or eaten by worms and bugs. What if there was a means by which scientists could change the genetic coding that caused tomatoes to fall off the vine when ripe?

Enter CRISPR/Cas 9:

When one hears about what CRISPR does, which is edit genes, one would think that it would be some sort of machine. What it actually is is a naturally occurring family of DNA snippets that occurs in bacteria as a defense against DNA-altering viruses. CRISPRs actually “remember” DNA that is changed by viruses and triggers the reproduction of the original DNA.

This faculty is the characteristic of CRISPRs that allows scientists to manipulate DNA with them by cutting DNA at certain points and adding or subtracting to the existing strands.

CRISPRs at Work

Water-Efficient Crops

One of the chief projects being undertaken using CRISPR is the development of crops that don’t need to be watered as much. This is done by triggering the plant to close its stomata, which function as pores that essentially sweat water. Currently, tobacco is being used as the guinea pig plant because it is the most susceptible to genetic modifications, whether using CRISPR or through traditional methods like selective breeding. Plants that don’t need to be watered as much will (obviously) save water, but they can also be grown in greater abundance, making it easier to feed larger populations of people.

Heat-Resistant Cows

As the planet grows hotter, there is a need for heat resistant cows. CRISPR has allowed for scientists to splice genes, creating the “Brangus” cow, which is a combination of the Brahman and Angus cows. The Brahman cow is heat resistant and has an excellent immune defense from disease, while the Angus cow is widely known for producing top-grade beef.

Bigger goats and dogs for the third-world

Researchers in China have made use of CRISPR for the purposes of deleting the genes in goats and dogs (yes, dogs) to make them larger for the purposes of human consumption. One example of this is when they spliced the genes of a pit bull and a beagle, creating a dog with a pit bull body and a beagle head. Cute?

Bioethical Concerns

It’s imagery like this that really gets one to question whether gene editing is worth whatever risks may accompany it. It may be a bit narrow-minded to say that this is immoral based on the fact that it is unnatural or that human beings are “playing God”, but nature is complex beyond our ability to fully understand it. There may be hidden benefits to genetic traits that may pose challenges to us, and by altering genes, we may risk losing those benefits.

It is the risks that cause ethical complications, though, in the case of gene editing, the potential benefits generally outweigh the risks. The FDA views gene editing as being breeding, but exponentially faster, so federal regulations are minimal. A number of startups have taken root to tackle the problems CRISPR may be instrumental in solving, and tremendous progress is being made as researchers learn more about the capabilities of CRISPR every day. The more we learn about this technology, the more we can do with it and the more it can help people around the world.



Chad Weisman—CEO, Golden Strands Communication; ‘creative type’; surfer on the amber waves of grain; avid concert attendee.