The CRISPR/Cas9 has evolved in the prokaryotes as a component of their adaptive immunity. However, in the past few years, scientists have figured out how to use this technology to edit genes in plants and animals, including humans. The CRISPR/Cas9 technology provides scientists and researchers the unique ability to edit genomes in any desired way including deletion and insertion of genes, point mutations, and genetic substitutions. The simple technical approach, combined with high specificity, efficiency, affordability, less time-consumption, and scalability makes CRISPR the most precise and versatile gene editing method among other available techniques.
Since genome editing involves changes in the DNA, the availability of such a versatile technique implies that physical traits can be easily modified and genetic diseases can be cured. Genetic diseases not only imply inherited ones but also those that have been acquired such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, AIDS, etc.
Indeed CRISPR has been a scientific breakthrough of the decade that has revolutionised almost everything from medicines and diagnostics to agriculture. In plants, CRISPR/Cas9 technology can help in increasing crop yields to meet the rising global demand for food. In addition, it can help in crop improvement in terms of nutrient packaging, disease and drought resistance, and resistance to pest outbreaks and other abiotic stresses that are capable of causing food scarcity. Thus, CRISPR can contribute towards food security, a key agenda of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In addition to agriculture, CRISPR/Cas9 has the potential to contribute to global food supply through improved farm animal breeding. By manipulating the genome of farm animals, CRISPR can help to erase undesired phenotypes such as aggressiveness, horns, susceptibility to diseases (including those caused by zoonotic microorganisms), thus protect those working on animal farms and the animals themselves. At the same time, the CRISPR/Cas9 technique can help to introduce desirable traits such as heat tolerance, improved growth rate, production of leaner meat, increased yield of animal products such as milk, meat, and eggs.
With growing global energy consumptions, biofuels are expected to contribute significantly to meeting energy demands. The CRISPR/Cas9 technique can not only help to improve the biofuel production yield, but also increase biofuel tolerance, thermotolerance, and inhibitor tolerance in biofuel production.
In humans, CRISPR/Cas9 can function as a diagnostic tool and help to elucidate the role of genes in various infectious and non-infectious diseases and assist in biomarker discovery. It can also help in the development of portable diagnostic tests such as test strips that can help in rapid identification of infectious diseases such as nCOVID-19, and provide scope for treatment to the patient. All this can help to improve drug discovery and development, thus contributing to overall improved healthcare in the future.
In addition to assisting in drug discovery and development, the CRISPR/Cas9 technique is itself directly involved in developing immunotherapies for cancer and therapeutics for HIV/AIDS. It can also help in vaccine production by increasing the yield of vaccines. Growing viruses for vaccine production can become challenging when the viruses have a slow growth rate such as the influenza virus. CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology is capable of increasing vaccine yield in avian cell lines by manipulating the interferon-inducible transmembrane (IFITM) genes in the cell line that are known to inhibit the growth of pathogenic viruses. Furthermore, although subjected to ethical debates, CRISPR/Cas9 technology has the potential to correct aberrant genetic mutations in germline cells (in addition to somatic cells) to prevent the inheritance of gene-linked disorders.