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The 7 Craziest Ways CRISPR Is Being Used Right Now

From turning pigs into organ donors to changing the color of flowers, the future of gene-editing tech is wacky and wonderful

Emily Mullin
OneZero
Published in
8 min readNov 1, 2018

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Photo by Gregor Fischer/picture alliance/Getty Images

TThere are few modern-day scientific innovations with implications as profound as the gene-editing technology CRISPR, which allows scientists to precisely cut and alter the DNA of any cell. Scientists’ use of CRISPR has taken off, in part because it’s so much easier to use than earlier iterations of gene editing. Though CRISPR hasn’t cured disease or ended world hunger yet, it’s already being used in some amazing ways. We’ve rounded up seven of the most wild examples.

1. Turning pigs into organ donors

For decades, scientists have considered the controversial idea that animals could provide a ready supply of organs to help ease the organ transplant shortage. More than 114,000 people are currently waiting to receive a transplant in the U.S., alone. Past attempts to implant animal organs into people have failed because the human body’s immune system rejects foreign tissue. (The first heart transplant ever performed in a human was in 1964, with a chimpanzee heart. The patient died within two hours.) Another barrier is the possibility that infections from animal donors could be transmitted to human recipients.

Researchers think CRISPR could solve both of these challenges.

One company, eGenesis, spun out of Harvard geneticist George Church’s lab, is using CRISPR to make pigs suitable organ donors for humans. Many pig organs, like the heart and lungs, are similar in size to human ones.

Researchers at eGenesis have used CRISPR to snip out a family of viruses found in pig DNA that could be passed to people during transplantation. These viruses, known as porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs, could jump from pigs to human cells and randomly integrate into the human genome. The company has produced dozens of virus-free pigs so far.

The company is also using CRISPR to modify genes involved in the immune system and prevent the human body from rejecting the organs. A clinical trial of human transplants with organs produced in…

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Emily Mullin
OneZero

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.