This week’s article, A Powerful New Way to Edit DNA, was published in The New York Times on March 4.
The previous articles I’ve chosen for Science Sunday have, for the most part, been about medical breakthroughs. Obviously, then, I think those are very important topics that can lead to great breakthroughs towards treating and curing human diseases. However, it’s important to understand that that’s not all science is about. The breakthroughs come later- but first comes years of hard work trying to think of hypotheses and test them and publish them, long before there’s an inkling of making a therapeutic that’s available to people. Those years of work require laboratory techniques to allow the work to be done, and while it’s not often publicized in the media, for scientists, the development of new techniques and protocols is the basis for doing the cutting edge work that everyone likes to hear about.
That’s why I chose this particular article. It focuses on a technology called CRISPR/Cas, which was originally discovered as the bacterial adaptive immune system and has recently been exploited as a way to efficiently edit genes in a laboratory setting. (DNA editing is a common tool used to study the effect of a certain gene or stretch of DNA: by deleting it, you are able to see what problems arise and consequently, know what that DNA is responsible for doing.) Within the scientific community, CRISPR has been getting a lot of buzz, and so I was pleased to see it getting media attention as well.
The article does a really great job of explaining the technology through diagrams and pictures (always a great way to explain things!) so the only Important Concept that I think warrants more understanding this week is adaptive immunity: the branch of the immune system that has specialized components to recognizes specific pathogens with high affinity; as opposed to innate immunity, which is more general in its ability to recognize pathogens and functions with high avidity.
Now that Science Sunday is in its 6th week (wow!) I want to ask you, my readers, what topics you are interested in seeing in future Science Sundays. I want the series to be interesting to you, so please comment to let me know!