The first genetically engineered humans might not have their DNA tweaked at all


Hacking the human body is all the rage these days. A few years back, scientists made waves by developing a technique (dubbed CRISPR) that literally cuts DNA at specific locations to edit out the genes that lead to disease. The implications for this are as enormous as they are diverse. However, the approach is far from perfect. And you’d really rather not have any errors when messing with something as permanent as the human genome.

So researchers have been working on a way to make gene editing safer. One approach, described this week in the journal Science, works by editing the far less permanent component of gene creation, RNA. Scientists think that this new tool could be safer than slicing and dicing DNA itself.

A quick refresher on CRISPR and gene editing

CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. They are small pieces of bacterial DNA that contain genetic information identical to that found in viruses. Along with enzymes called Cas, they are part of many microbial immune systems. When viruses attempt to invade, the bacteria recognize them (from CRISPR copy cats) and cut them with the Cas enzymes, preventing them from reproducing any further.