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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

An Age of Wonder

An Age of Wonder

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, June 16, 2019/Categories: natural history, video, sustainability, art and design, environment, adventure

  Crystal Structure of Bacterial CRISPR Protein (cyan) bound to RNA (green) and Viral DNA (red) (credit: Wikicommons)

The Greek god of making weapons and tools was Hephaestus and he was whom all the others turned to for their powers. However, Hephaestus walked with a limp because he was crippled. 2500 years ago our wise ancestors understood the use of a good metaphor. Today we have developed advanced and wondrous technologies to make lives easier, healthier, and interesting. They also came with unintended consequences. Electricity generation, petrochemicals, the internet all made the world more connected but downsides of environment pollution and political rancor have produced problems that require solutions.

Biotechnology, the ability to easily manipulate living tissues and genes, has opened a world of unlimited possibilities.  This ability to modify the chemistry of life, the DNA code of micro-organisms, plants, and animals, may be the most powerful tool of them all. The results of bio-medicines, natural tissue regeneration, enhanced plant productivity have provided many benefits. Now this biological 'tool box' has exploded with the addition of the remarkable technology, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, CRISPR. CRISPR allows for the precise 'cutting and pasting' of DNA segments that can be inserted or deleted from the general code. It was originally discovered by researchers investigating how bacteria naturally defended against viruses. CRISPR is now employed in laboratories worldwide with new applications appearing limited only by the imagination.

Two short videos explain both how CRISPR was discovered, how it is used today, and where it might be heading.

Will these powerful tools be used solely for beneficial purposes or could a genetic modification cause harm by unintended outcomes? The Greeks understood the philosophical conundrum when they envisioned their crippled tool maker.



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