Although the idea of altering genes has inspired some of the coolest comic books and sci-fi stories of all time, intentional and precise adjustment of humans’ DNA has still, for the most part, failed to become a ubiquitous reality. This may change soon, however, as the field of genetic engineering is poised for a major breakthrough: a breakthrough that’s likely coming thanks to a technique called CRISPR, which YouTuber Kurzgesagt outlines brilliantly in the above video.
For those who haven’t heard of CRISPR, it stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and as Kurzgesagt—who’s made tons of other enthralling videos on scientific and philosophical concepts—points out, “It’s hard to get across how big a technical revolution CRISPR is; it literally has the potential to change humanity forever.”
CRISPR, a complex bioengineering process, essentially utilizes the same method that bacteria use when defending themselves against viruses. Kurzgesagt breaks down how this defense takes place (starting at around 3:54), by showing how bacteria can save copies of a virus’s DNA, and then use a protein called CAS9 to compare those copies to new virus’s DNA, and then cut out any 100% matches it finds. “The revolution began [however],” as Kurzgesagt says, “when scientists figured out that the CRISPR system is programmable… [and] also offers the opportunity to alter live cells; to switch genes on and off, and study particular DNA sequences.”
Kurzgesagt makes the potential of CRISPR clear many times over, noting that it has the ability to make treatments for everything from AIDS to cancer more effective, and is likely to change the way humans reproduce. Imagine something along the lines of Gattaca, where genetic engineering from before birth becomes a fact of life.
We may even get a little bit of that Wolverine-y goodness going, as Kurzgesagt points out that CRISPR could have the ability to significantly hinder the aging process and increase our lifespans. Or maybe we could give all future humans the ability to maximize their physiological potential like Steve Rogers (even just the biceps would be nice).
But that kind of genetic engineering is still likely a long way off, so until then, we’ll have to make due with our fictional heroes, and our thoughts on where this field is headed…which you can share in the comments below!