CRISP is a new genetic technique for making specific changes in DNA sequences that is currently causing considerable interest in the world of molecular biology. Whilst CRISPR was initially found in bacteria (where the bacteria use it as a defence mechanism against invading viruses), it has now been shown to be capable of making targeted changes in mammalian genes. From a therapeutic perspective, the level of accuracy which CRISPR provides might make it usable to treat human diseases and possibly even to correct defective genes in IVF embryos prior to implantation.
Its commercial applications will only be limited by the scientists’ imagination: artificial genes to make better antibiotics; synthetic antibodies to make better anti-cancer drugs; transgenic plants with enhanced drought tolerance; and transgenic animals with higher nutritional value (all of which are potentially patentable). But there are also other - more controversial - fields to which CRISPR could be applied, including the production of designer pets and designer babies. We must ensure therefore that the moral and legal implications of CRISPR keep pace with what can be done with this new technology.