Our genes aren’t quite our destiny, but they can definitely feel like it. After all, they determine what species of creature we are, what shade our eyes can be, and whether we inherit any number of genetic diseases and risk factors. When we think of genetic damage or mutation, our minds either jump to pulp heroes like Bruce Banner or grotesque, deformed creatures.
Perceptions aside, genes, like any other part of our body, are just part of a larger machine. The problem with DNA, though, is that the parts we’re working with are so tiny that they’re almost impossible to fix. But that’s changing. Really freaking fast. And it’s all thanks to CRISPR — a genetic superweapon.
Now… when I say “weapon,” I’m thinking more along the lines of vaccines or MRIs — exceptionally powerful tools that could fundamentally upend how we think about medicine. CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) is, essentially, a genetic scalpel that allows us to slice parts of the DNA in living cells. That sounds scary — and it definitely is. If used poorly, we could well be talking about a very different kind of superweapon. And that’s exactly why it’s essential for us to understand as much as we can — both as voting members of the public and as curious, geeky minds.