The gene was discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick. This discovery led to the understanding of the now famous double helix DNA that makes up the molecular unit of heredity. CRISPR (pronounced crisper) are short repetitions of base sequences of your DNA followed by spacer DNA. The spacer DNA get created when you get exposed to bacteria or virus. In layman terms, when you say you have acquired immunity to smallpox or a drug for example, it is this spacer DNA that is being created.

Scientists have used the discovery of spacer DNA to create tools to edit your gene. In order to do this, they have used something called a Cas9 or protein 9. The Cas9 has the capacity to enter your body and cut your gene where the spacer DNA was created and either inactivate the gene or introduce new genes. Married with an understanding of the role of a specific gene in triggering human characteristics, we have now entered the era of designer humans. Don’t like the fact that you are predisposed to diabetes? Gene editing can probably fix that soon.

A team of Chinese scientists became the first to inject a person with aggressive lung cancer using the CRISPR Cas9 technique. The researchers removed immune cells from the blood of the patient. Using techniques that could tell the gene where to cut, they disabled the codes for PD-1 which slows down your immune response. It is this that cancer cells take advantage of to proliferate. The team cultured the edited cells and increased their number before injecting it back into the body. The hope is that these edited genes will now target the lung cancer and heal the person.

Gene editing comes with complex moral challenges at least for the world as we know it. Perhaps someday soon, it will be normal to create children who have been completely designed in the laboratory. Till then, you will have to do.


Ritesh is a born again health enthusiast and holds a Certificate in Physiology from Harvard Medical School and a Certificate in Nutrition from Tufts University.