How can bacteria change the face of genetics? / by Louisa Ulrich-Verderber


When I’m cleaning, cooking, or simply lying around I often listen to podcasts. Well, a couple of days ago I came across the most amazing one. It was a Radio Lab podcast--I think I have featured their work before--about a particular bacterial defense mechanism that can, and has, changed the world of genetic engineering, called CRISPR.

What is CRISPR you ask? Well here’s the podcast!

Wasn’t that haunting? The fact that this tiny command, a mere reaction to an external stimulus, in bacteria is so powerful is chilling to me. But in a good way, though some, like Karl, cringe at the thought of the seemingly universal reach of this technology, I am simply in awe of it.

To be honest, I do find the idea of tampering with unborn humans cringe inducing but I also see it as a wonderful advancement against disease and potential medical problems. Just like in the podcast, if I was to be asked if I wanted my child to have genes that protect them against Alzheimer's, I would say yes. I think what’s making some people cringe is that, just like Karl said, human beings seem “sacred” tampering with our genetics seems to cross some invisible line.

 And no doubt, that concern is indeed important, but I think before we cringe and start jumping down certain scientists throats for testing if CRISPR on human embryos, we need to weigh these two values: the imaginary construct that we are sacred, and the fact that this can be a tool for revolutionary medical care. Think of all the genetic and debilitating diseases that could be wiped out using this technique? Cystic Fibrosis, gone. Muscular Dystrophy, gone. Down Syndrome, gone. Anemia, gone.  Think about that… just think of all the debilitating, life-altering disorders that could go away for our grandkids. I find that stunning.

I’ll leave with this. Thought a lot of people focus on the negative aspects of this discovery, there is a positive side too, there always a positive side.

Here’s a list of my top favorite podcasts: