Science Snippet: The Biomedical Breakthrough of 2015

The biomedical breakthrough of 2015 was a revolutionary advance in science that allows molecular geneticists to quickly and cheaply grab a specific gene in a cell and turn that gene off or on; remove it completely; or even substitute a new “designer gene” in place of the one removed. For example, if a human embryo shows the presence of the gene for muscular dystrophy, this gene can be inactivated or removed. All this may sound farfetched, but it is now a reality. Although many inherited human disorders are caused by a number of genes, single-gene disorders can now be theoretically corrected. The new technique is called “CRISPR,” because it involves using a segment of bacterial DNA made up of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPR is easier to say. It is precise, highly efficient in targeting a specific gene, and more flexible and faster than previous gene editing methods. In 2014 alone there were 600 scientific articles dealing with CRISPR, and now its impact on science is being written about in the popular press. Remember, when you read CRISPR it has nothing to do with how you like your morning toast. (Science, Jan. 3, 2014; Hsu, P.D. et al, 2014, in Cell, vol. 157, issue 6, June 20; many other sources)

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