CRISPR (pronounced "crisper") might sound like a fast food menu item, but it's actually a revolutionary gene-editing technology.
In 2012, biochemists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered how to utilize enzymes to to make highly specific changes in the DNA of a living organism. Potential implications were vast - everything from disease avoidance to genetically engineering "designer babies" became conceivable at that point.
However, since it's inception, this "molecular scissor" technology has proven a bit finicky. It typically works for less than 10 percent of cells and can cause off-target cell mutations. Put simply, it hasn't been ready for prime time.
That may be changing soon, though, thanks to a team of biologists at Cal San Diego who recently developed a new form of CRISPR that can more efficiently insert correct DNA sequences with far fewer errors (existing CRISPR techniques had a ~1% error rate; this technique's rate is 100X lower).
The method uses a variant of the enzyme Doudna and Charpentier discovered that softly cuts or “nicks” one strand of the DNA double helix, rather than bluntly cutting both DNA strands. The researchers tested this new approach in fruit flies to correct a mutation that turned their eyes white instead of red. The new enzyme corrected eye color in up to 65% of cells, resetting eye color to red.
Bottom line: we're seemingly close to being able to "Control-Alt-Delete" many diseases.