The gene-editing technique called CRISPR has the much-hyped potential to revolutionize medicine, deliver designer babies, and end global hunger. Developed from a mechanism found in bacteria, CRISPR allows scientists to cut-and-paste DNA with unprecedented precision. The researchers behind its discovery are favorites to win Nobel prizes in 2016.
In the three years since CRISPR was introduced, it has been adopted by thousands of scientists worldwide. Already, they’ve used the technique to create hypermuscular beagles and pigs that can grow human organs for transplant. Innovations that used to take many years to realize can now be made in mere months. “The technology is pretty darn fast,” said Dan Voytas, a genetic engineer who has edited wheat to reduce gluten sensitivity. “In a year we can generate a plant from just an idea for one.”
As a result, CRISPR-based startups are busily raising hundreds of millions of dollars. Patent applications that mention CRISPR have soared, from 43 in 2013 to 292 last year. And while the first products—things like hornless dairy cows and hypoallergenic peanuts—are still a few years from market, this will be the year gene editing transforms life as we know it.