For this—my last post in what I hope has been an interesting and thought-provoking #CRISPRand . . . blog series—I’m not going to start by asking whether coronavirus has affected your life. Because of course it has. The way it’s affected you may be a lot different than the way it’s affected me but one thing’s for sure: this virus has affected us all.
A year ago, no one had ever heard of Covid-19. Now it controls the way we live, interact and move through our days.
I wrote CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA before our world was turned upside down by coronavirus. I had a chance to mention Covid-19 in the last stages of the editing process. But at that time, there was no way to know how CRISPR technology would apply to the pandemic.
As I write this post, we still don’t really know. But here are some ways scientists are using CRISPR to fight the coronavirus that causes Covid-19:
As I mentioned in my brief post titled CRISPR and COVID, the first test for Covid-19 using CRISPR was approved for use in the US by the FDA in June. Sherlock Biosciences, based in Cambridge, configured the CRISPR enzyme to hunt down coronavirus gene sequences and emit a fluorescent glow if found. Other researchers are working on similar tests that could provide rapid results and even be done from home.
A Stanford lab is working on a genetic vaccine using CRISPR to not only find coronavirus RNA within human cells but also destroy it. Early studies show delivery by inhalation (with something like an asthma inhaler) reduces the virus by 90%. If successful, it could be developed into a vaccine for SARS-Cov 2 (the specific virus that causes Covid-19) and other forms of the coronavirus too. Read more about this approach, which goes by the cool name PAC-MAN, here.
In CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA, I talk about how CRISPR can be used to treat HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. There’s also a discussion about the rogue scientist who engineered the world’s first gene-edited babies to be immune to HIV by editing a specific gene at the embryonic stage. While this is not likely to happen for Covid-19—at least not any time soon—it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
Like you, I’m hopeful that we will soon have a vaccine that allows us to return to life as we knew it before Covid-19 came crashing into our lives. Whether CRISPR will help make this happen is still unknown. But I really think gene editing has the potential to change a lot of things in our lives; for better and for worse.
Even though I know a lot about genetics, writing CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA was eye opening for me. It wasn’t hard to provide a balanced view of the pros and cons of gene editing because I really believe there are both. By providing information and asking questions, I hope readers will be able to start forming their own opinions. It will, after all, be up to all of us to decide how CRISPR will shape our future.
Image credits: Alexandra_Koch (pixabay), Alex Boersma, National Park Services