The ability to alter DNA is evolving rapidly, with the introduction and rapid adoption of a technique referred to as CRISPR. What is CRISPR? Google will help you find some fascinating technical explanations, but we appreciate the description by writer Carl Zimmer in the New York Times, “Crispr is a system of molecules that allows scientists to alter DNA with exquisite precision. Researchers design the molecules so they attach to DNA at a specific location. They then slice out the DNA there — whether an entire gene or a snippet of one — and then prompt a cell to replace it with a new segment designed by the scientists.” (A Call To Fight Malaria One Mosquito at a Time, July 17, 2014).
The CRISPR approach has been successfully used in repairing a genetic mutation in an adult mouse with a liver disorder, and to create primates with altered DNA as well. The idea behind de-extinction – bringing back an extinct species such as the Woolly Mammoth – continues to gain steam with recent technical advances with that particular animal thanks to CRISPR.
None of this is without controversy – and recently a group of researchers and bioethicists, including a number of the scientists pioneering the technique – have called for caution and highlighted the need for public consultation and dialog.
Looking for more resources for students? pgEd created this brief handout for a recent teachers conference, “Genetic Engineering Resources – Maine Science Teacher Association“, which you might find useful to share with your classes.