CRISPR. Sounds delicious. The word itself looks impressive. But there’s good reason why the scientific community is equal parts salivating and sweating over its potential.

Any time you mix complex scientific theories with numerous short-form abbreviations and a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ things are bound to get a little confusing. Such is the perfectly illustrated case with CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. Those words put together mean a lot to some very smart people, but for the average human it still has a better ring to it as a potato chip-sounding acronym. At its core CRISPR allows scientists to edit any gene, whether it’s one causing a specific strain of cancer or it’s the reason some folks to come into the world a little plumper than others. To over-simplify it, CRISPR might be the Get Out Of Jail Free card mankind has been waiting for. Emphasis on the ‘might’ part.

Did you know?

  1. Since 2012, CRISPR-Cas9 (the tool’s official name) has been allowing for precision editing of genetic DNA coding.
  2. Following preliminary clinical trials, some members of the scientific community are cautiously optimistic CRISPR will be vital in wiping out a long list of chronic medical conditions.
  3. Although not the first DNA-editing tool ever developed, CRISPR has already been used in laboratory mice to effectively edit out the genetic strands responsible for HIV, Huntingdon’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes and various forms of cancer.
  4. CRISPR works by allowing geneticists to cut and paste specific parts of a genome (the basic blueprint of an organism’s genetic instructions that dictate how it will grow).
  5. There are two key components to CRISPR: Cas9, an enzyme with attitude that acts like scissors to cut strands of DNA in precise locations so that snippets can be removed or added as needed, and…
  6. A nucleic acid similar to DNA called RNA that acts as the eyes of the editing mission and guides the Cas9 to the correct section of genome to cut.
  7. Amongst the questions CRISPR has raised: a controversial trial in which blindness was cured in mice may have caused more than a thousand off-target effects.
  8. While CRISPR’s therapy potential is massive, exactly how it might adversely affect a human patient is still unknown. As of this writing, CRISPR has only been used in a patient suffering from lung cancer in China who did not respond to any other form of treatment.
  9. Scientists in Beijing have already used CRISPR to ‘custom make’ an embryo; essentially modifying and tailoring its genes. The embryo was not allowed to develop into a human.
  10. This embryo experiment demonstrated a divide in the scientific community: those that want to move as quickly as possible with CRISPR, and those that feel more time is needed to flesh out the possible repercussions of the procedures in which it is used.