CRISPR-cas9 is one of the most promising new developments in medicine, and in science in general.
For decades, editing genes was a laborious, difficult and expensive process. It could take many months to years to change just one gene, and it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, while requiring a state of the art lab. Presently, with CRISPR-cas9 you can change a gene in less than a day at a cost of around 50 dollars.
However, CRISPR-cas9, how revolutionary it may be, is being superseded by even better versions.
In other words, CRISPR 2.0 has arrived.
This is technology like CRISPR–cpf1, which is a smaller, less complex version of the original CRISPR-cas9 protein. Because of its smaller size, CRISPR-cpf1 is easier to insert into viruses, which can carry it into cells. Another advantage is that CRISPR-cpf1 cuts the DNA in a better way (it creates “sticky ends” instead of “blunt ends”).
Another example is DNA base editors. The team of professor David Liu at Harvard University developed an adenine base editor (ABE), which is a hybrid of a cas9 protein and a protein that can edit specific pieces of DNA, called adenines.
Base editors are much more accurate than CRISPR-cas9, and this by a long margin. Contrary to CRISPR-cas9, they create much less double-strand breaks and other (off-target) mutations.
The adenine base editor can change an adenine base into a guanine base, which could fix about half of the 32 000 point mutations that cause disease (point mutations account for about two third of the mutations in the human genome associated with disease – about 32000 out of the 50000 disease-causing mutations).
Besides CRISPR-cas9, also CRISPR–cas13 has been developed, which can modify RNA instead of DNA, opening up a whole new world of possibilities to modify the transcriptome, enabling more fine-tuned control of cells compared to editing the genome (DNA).
The toolbox to manipulate the genome, transcriptome, and epigenome is being extended on a continuous basis, paving the way for the manipulation of cells, and life, in ways never seen before.
- 4 grams of DNA can store all the data in the world.
- Each person will generate enough health data in their lifetime to fill 300 million books.
- The cost of a lab-grown burger has dropped from 330 000 USD to 10 USD in six years time.
- Only 3 percent of healthcare expenditure goes to prevention, the other 97 percent to treat sick people.
- 5 percent of Americans account for 50 percent of healthcare spending.
- The older 60+ population will doubly by 2050 to 2.1 billion. The oldest old 80+ population will triple by 2050 and increase sevenfold by 2100, reaching almost 1 billion people.
- 90 percent of Americans already use at least one digital health tool, like wearables, online health platforms or telemedicine.
- Currently, the amount of healthcare data is growing by 50 percent per year.
- A child born today has a 50 percent chance of becoming 105 years old. This does not take into account all kinds of new technologies that will transform medicine and longevity.
Some of the biggest developments in health(care) will be, according to Bank of America:
– Genomics: new gene editing technologies and therapies will transform disease, personalized medicine, food and drug development. This are new technologies like CRISPR-cas9.
– Big Data/AI: an exponential growth of healthcare data and an improvement in AI algorithms will significantly impact how we treat diseases and improve wellness and health.
– Future food: plant-based meat, lab-grown meat, AgTech (agricultural technology e.g. hydroponics, vertical farming, etc), and the development of healthier, more sustainable foods provide huge opportunities.
– Healthtech: wearables, insideables, telemedicine, mobile health, brain-computer interfaces, smart implants (e.g. living drug factories made from engineered cells), nanobots, and brain implants will change how patients are treated, monitored and kept healthy.
– Ammortality: anti-aging biotech will disrupt death and aging-related diseases and pave the way towards ammortality.
Source: Bank of America / Merill Lynch
This is the top 12 of the most important future developments that will transform our society (in no particular order):
- Self-driving cars
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) / Machine Learning
- Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality / Mixed Reality
- 3D printing
- Internet of Things (sensors)
- Better solar panels (solar photovoltaics)
- Energy storage
- Equity crowdfunding
Of course, we have been talking for decades about many of these technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
Why should this time be any different?
It seems that this time is indeed different. Take AI for example. The cards are now much better for AI than twenty years ago, because computers have finally become powerful enough, large datasets are now available for AI to learn from (like the huge amount of “labeled” information that can be found on the Internet) and important breakthroughs have occurred in the field of machine learning (like evolutionary algorithms and convoluted neural networks).
Idem for robotics, virtual reality and biotechnology.
Many of these technologies will also reinforce each other and have a synergistic effect. Stronger AI, for example, can enable breakthroughs in biotechnological research, improve self-driving cars, and make robots smarter and more versatile.
These technologies are evolving at a very fast pace. Take 3D printing. It’s a promising technology, but has some major drawbacks, like the long time it takes to print something layer by layer, and the fact that the layers make the surface of the printed object irregular (not smooth). But a new form of 3D printing, called “digital light synthesis“, addresses these problems in one fell swoop because it prints without layers, using light that hardens plastics.
The same for biotechnology. Gene technology has been available for more than 30 years but has been very expensive, time-consuming and inaccurate. In 2012 the revolutionary gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas-9 came into the spotlight which addressed all of these problems. While this gene-modification technology is considered as a huge breakthrough, better successors are now available, which are even more accurate and efficient.
In short, the evolution of these (re)evolutions accelerates exponentially.
The world 50 years from now will be a totally different world.