Background via CRISPR/Cas9 Genome Editing
‘Science magazine’s 2015 Breakthrough of the Year, CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) were discovered in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2007 that their true power to democratize gene targeting was realized. That’s when the first report demonstrating CRISPR could cut specific DNA targets was released.
Jennifer Doudna and her team (U. of California, Berkeley), in collaboration with one led by Emmanuelle Charpentier (Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin) realized bacteria could remember viruses, and in looking for a mechanism, discovered the repeats later dubbed CRISPR.
Applications, including disease and pest control via modified DNA replication and genetic engineering of plants and animals, are proliferating as quickly as the discussion about moral and ethical responsibilities for how and when to use the easy, inexpensive technology.
Biomedical applications, including creating tissue-based treatments for cancer, are already in the works. Given its ease and low cost of use, CRISPR capabilities and applications will likely be found in a number of other fields – this is only the beginning.’
There is a dispute over who owns the patents to CRISPR/Cas9 which raises a number of ethical and commercial questions, but also the larger question of whether patents are still a viable and logical construct, given the highly collaborative (and thence porous and complex) nature of scientific discoveries in the 21st century.