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A crisp intro to CRISPR, the gene-editing tool shaking up science

A world free from malaria, full of woolly mammoths

CRISPR may be that rarest thing in science: a genuine breakthrough.

The young DNA editing tool has dominated science headlines for months, as a mounting pile of studies highlight its potential to fight deadly diseases and customize organisms. It's generally proving to be cheaper, more precise, and easier to use than earlier genetic technologies, opening up possibilities across a wide variety of fields.

How can one technology potentially do so many, and such world-altering, things?

In a paper published just last week, researchers at Temple University used it to snip out the most widespread type of HIV from human immune cells. Meanwhile, labs around the world are employing CRISPR to identify potential cancer therapies, develop treatments for cystic fibrosis, create malaria-blocking mosquitos, produce swole dogs, make miniature pet pigs, and even bring extinct species back from the dead.

How can one technology potentially do so many, and such world-altering, things? In the video above, we set out to explain what CRISPR actually is, how exactly it works, and why so many scientists believe it's such a promising tool.

Writing, editing and motion graphics by James Temple. Animation by Kimberly Mas. Directed by James Temple, Tyler Pina and Vjeran Pavic.