We will never forget the year 2020, right? We will probably make sentences to our children, their children and grandchildren of our grandchildren , starting with “oh oh, the year is 2020, I never forget, what we went through that year.” . We will establish and the subject we will explain in the rest of those sentences will not only be pandemics. It will be a discovery that allows us to live long enough to tell stories to our grandchildren. Because that discovery won the Nobel Prize just last Wednesday, in October 2020.
The biggest discovery in genetics won the Nobel Prize: What is CRISPR-Cas9?
This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system, which has for the first time enabled scientists to make precise changes in the long stretches of DNA that make up the code of life for many organisms, including people.
This stylish chandelier hall enters the frame of the lenses at least once a year. Because the Nobel prize winners, one of the most prestigious awards in the scientific world, are announced here. In other words, we learn the names and works of the people who made the most important discoveries in human history. These works and the people who made them are written in history books. The subject chosen in the field of Chemistry this year is about the codes of our lives. Because a way was found to rewrite it.
- The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, who developed the genome editing method.
Pay attention to these two people. For the first time, two women were awarded in Nobel ceremonies held in more than 100 years. And again, a discovery made just 8 years ago was chosen for the first time. Decades of work by research groups, normally including at least one man, were deemed worthy of this award.
You know what these two women, one American and one French, met at a conference in Puerto Rico discovered? CRISPR-Cas9 technique.
I know it’s not a cool name at all. It is not possible to understand much from its opening. So I will try to explain it more simply.
Let’s think about ourselves. Our body is made up of trillions of cells. We have genes inside these cells. Even if you don’t see the DNA helix itself, you must have seen its illustration somewhere. I like to give examples of everyday items so that these issues are better remembered.
We can think of DNA like this zipper. It’s a much longer zipper than that. There are about 6 billion teeth on it. Each tooth is actually like the letters of a special alphabet. With a small difference. There are 4 letters, not 29, in this alphabet of living life. The letters G, A, T and C. You can keep in mind with the word GATTACA. If there is the letter A on one side of the zipper, it has the letter T opposite it, or vice versa. AT, TA. Likewise opposite of G is C. GC, CG. 6 billion of them stay in the cells in pairs like this.
This is the code of our life. Just as the code of computers consists of 0’s and 1’s, and if everything in digital life can be created from their sequence in a certain order, the special arrangement of these codes in our cells determines how almost everything in organic life will be. Typical example is the color of your eyes, your hair.
When I say “I got the color of my eyes from my mother”, what I get is the genetic code for that color. But what if we could cut that part of the zipper and put another part in its place, that is, patch it? “We will have babies, but my wife and my seven lineages are brown-eyed, I wish our child could be green-eyed,” a couple sighed, “oh, that’s easy, you have a scissor job, another desire?” If he could say… Well, doctors are now almost able to say that because those two Nobel prize winners this year invented a special pair of scissors to cut that zipper:
this is what is called CRISPR-Cas9, this special genetic scissors.
These scissors, which were invented only 8 years ago, have gone into use so quickly that we can say that there are developments in the speed of light in the scientific world.
Now I ‘m going to quote you an important book on these topics (I shortened it a bit while translating):
“If we traveled a thousand years into the past, kidnapped a baby from there and brought him to today’s world, that child would not be different from us. We could not distinguish. But if we jumped into the same time machine and traveled a thousand years into the future, the baby we would bring from there would be a genetic superhuman by our current standards.
It would be stronger and smarter than other children, resistant to many diseases, and longer life. He wasn’t just a very advanced person. It would also have the genetic characteristics of some animals with super sharp sensory perceptions, such as those that smell very well, or can see very well in the dark. Let’s go further. It could even carry new features not yet known in the human or animal world, but made from the same biological building blocks that led to the great diversity of all life. “
So what happened last year when this book was published, which predicted the characteristics of a baby that will be born 1000 years later? I had to prepare a video like this and publish it. Genetically engineered babies were born in China to be resistant to disease.
It rightly sparked tremendous controversy, and the doctor who did this job was jailed by the Chinese government. So will our story end like this?
I do not think so. Because that door is now open. We will either continue to be afraid of the dark or try to find a way to light the room before we enter.
This discovery has its frightening and ethically controversial aspects. On the other hand, there are diseases that it can treat.
We can think of DNA not only as a zipper but also as a manual for living things. Sometimes this manual can have typographical errors. So genetic diseases.
If this user manual had been prepared with a computer, we could use a word processing program like Word to find the misspelled words, select and replace them, right?
Using CRISPR-Cas9 as such a word processing program, it became possible to delete certain genes and replace them with new ones.
The technique works simply like this. We have two molecules: Cas9 and Guide RNA. We can imagine it as scissors and a half zipper. Cas9 is a protein that can cut DNA. Guide RNA has a sequence that matches the target DNA. You know, because AT and G match C in this alphabet… If we want to change the word GATTACA in DNA, we use a Guide RNA arranged as CTAATGT. He is starting to look for the place on the zipper suitable for this sequence. He takes Cas9 with him. When he finds it, he opens the zipper first, then inserts the Guide RNA and finally cuts it with scissors. At this point, scientists can delete the gene at the cut or replace it with a new DNA sequence.
After understanding the importance and technical details of the work for the future, let’s take a look at the starting stories of those who discovered it, because there are interesting connections in these stories …
Emmanuelle Charpentier French-born Nobel Prize winner from the people developing this technique, but it works in other countries have done .
- I got a call from Umeå University.
Do you know where is this university? One of the closest schools to the north pole in northern Sweden. They set up a new microbiology laboratory there. They also support and fund studies on molecular biology. They summoned Emmanuelle there. In January. Of course, in the middle of winter, when we go to a school so close to the north pole, it is dark even in daytime and there is snow everywhere. The weather is cold. You have the environment, you imagine it. When he got there he took his first step on the snow. And his second step… Every step he took outside until he reached the university was in the snow. Of course, how does it sound when walking in the snow?
- You know, when you walk in the snow, there is a “crisp, crisp” sound.
When he heard those voices, he thought that I should come here and do my work on CRISPR here. Isn’t it an interesting starting story?
Crisp crisp crisp… What else do I compare these sounds while walking in the snow? Tear it, break it, break it… To the scissors sound. As you can see, these footsteps while walking in the snow turned into scissors sounds of a microscopic vehicle.
The starting story of the other person sharing the award, Jennifer Doudna, is even more interesting.. When he started his research on this subject, he had a dream. In his dream, a scientist introduces him to a man in a dark room. This man in the dark asks him questions about CRISPR technology. Questions like how it works, where it can be used… When this man in his dream comes to light a little more, he understands who he is: Adolf Hitler! And at that moment he awakens from his dream in horror. There is a side to this chilling experience. Since Hitler believed in the concepts of “superior race” or “pure race,” he had scientists conducted genetic studies, or rather horrible experiments. Thousands of people died in these experiments. They “sacrificed” those people to design a better human race.
So, can a complete superhuman design really be made using CRISPR-Cas9? The answer to this question is a bit complicated. Because people are complicated. As we have seen in the designed babies I just mentioned, even sperm, egg and embryo can be changed. Moreover, these changes can be passed on to the next generations. So there is a potential power within this technology that can change what makes human beings human. But there are still many unknowns about the human genome. Mutations that cause diseases in the short term will be corrected. In the long run? 100 years later, 1000 years later… That is a very important issue that should be discussed openly by everyone.
In the last century, genetic studies were at a much more primitive level than today. Even for a person like Hitler who has all the resources of a country and did not put his best efforts, they were very difficult to do. CRISPR technology has made this much easier and cheaper. Let me show you a product that you can buy on the online shopping site . In his description, he writes:
“Do you really want to know what this whole CRISPR thing is about? Why could it revolutionize genetic engineering? This kit contains everything you need to make precise genome edits in bacteria at home, including Cas9, gRNA and Template DNA for a sample experiment. ”
Yes, the product we will add to the basket is called “DIY Bacterial Gene Engineering CRISPR Kit” and the price is $ 169. They sell the Word program you can use to write on your computer for about the same price from the shopping site next door : $ 139.99. You change the words of the texts on the screen with one, and the codes of living life with the other.
Of course, very important measures need to be taken for the use of a technology that has already become so accessible in the human embryo. Because this can turn into a very powerful weapon. The biggest harm you can do to another person with a weapon is to destroy them. However, the smallest harmful arrangement to be made in the human embryo by using this technology causes damage not only to it but also to all generations that will arise from it.
I will quote one more quote from the previous book about this discovery:
“From this point on, most of our mutations will not be random. It will be designed by us.
From this point on, our selection will not be natural. It will be managed by us.
From this point on, our species will take active control of our evolutionary process by genetically modifying our future offspring to something different from what we are today. “
I said at the beginning that we will never forget the year 2020. Do you know when something similar happened? In 2012… Do you remember there was a 2012 phenomenon. Books have been written and films have been shot about him. Because 2012 was the end of the Mayan calendar. According to many prophecies, that year humanity would come to an end. Of course, none of these prophecies, which have no scientific basis, came true. But there was a scientific breakthrough that took place. The CRISPR-Cas9 technique, which won the Nobel Prize last week, was discovered in 2012. And perhaps with this discovery, humanity as we know it has come to an end.