CRISPR and Ethics, Update 2: Planning the Review

For those just tuning in, my project this summer is to write a literature review concerning the ethical implications of CRISPR-cas9 gene-editing technology.   For the first part of my project I focused on understanding the mechanism of CRISPR itself, in order to have a strong knowledge base with which to approach the ethical aspects.  In brief, CRISPR is based on a naturally-occurring anti-viral system which exists in bacteria.  This system can be manipulated in order to delete or insert genes into the target strand.  In my recent work I began delve into what this means CRISPR is capable of, and I have had to redirect the final goal of my project.

In my reading, I came across a paper which perfectly encapsulated what I hoped to accomplish in my writing.  It seems as though there is a lot of general scientific buzz surrounding CRISPR, and I began to fear that my work would become, essentially, a moot point.  As such I have decided to aim my writing at individuals from all walks of life.  From what I have learned thus far, my opinion is that the implications CRISPR carries with it are important enough that all people ought to be informed, not just those who understand technical jargon.  As such, I will also be trying to keep the review at a more reasonable length.

At this point I have finished most of my reading, outside of a few points I may want to clarify.  I am now planning out how to present my findings, and I have identified four main categories I want to separate the concept of “ethics” into.  They are as follows:

  • Ecological
  • Societal
  • Genetic
  • General Safety

I would also like to make all of the potential avenues where CRISPR does more good than harm known, so as to provide readers with a more complete picture.  Current research is investigating its potential to:

  • Combat genetically inherited diseases
  • Develop new methods of immunotherapy to treat cancer
  • Create gene drives to stop the spread of diseases (such as dengue fever)

Overall, my review will attempt to touch upon the “what” and then, afterwards, the “so what” of CRISPR cas9.  While I was initially disappointed to find that science had already begun working on what I set out to accomplish, I realize now that it was naive of me to believe it had not.  Now, however, I am excited to tackle my new approach in using layman’s terms to communicate the potential of this technology.


  1. mncetrone says:

    Jessica, this research projects sounds really fascinating! It seems to me that while there is a lot of chatter in the scientific community about the potential uses of CRISPR cas9 in the field of biology and beyond, a lot of people both in that community and in the general public need clarification on what exactly CRISPR cas9 is. I think it’s great that you’re attempting to explain that, because, as you said, people from all communities and walks of life should be informed about new scientific discoveries, especially when these discoveries can potentially be used to improve parts of so many people’s lives. I am really excited to learn more about this new technology – I’d especially like to know more about the gene drives you mentioned – that sounds really interesting!
    I also wanted to mention that I understand the disappointment you felt when you began your literature review and realized that most of what you wanted to find had already been investigated. I really like the direction that your research is taking now, though. I also want to remind you that the field of science can always use new voices and perspectives, and I think that the more people there are investigating one particular topic, the more refined our understanding of that topic can be, which is a great thing. Keep up the good work!