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Although scientists have been able to edit genes for several decades, new genome editing technologies are more efficient, more precise and far less expensive than previous ones. One of these techniques, known as CRISPR-Cas9, could allow for new applications ranging from editing viruses and bacteria to animals, plants and human beings.

For example, scientists could design pest-resistant plants. They could modify the genome of animals, bacteria and viruses to help fight diseases and plagues.

CRISPR could potentially be used by almost anybody willing to tinker with the genome. This, and the fact that it can be used either for beneficial or harmful purposes, have raised fears that CRISPR could become a weapon of mass destruction.

CRISPR could also be used to modify the human genome. The big question scientists are wrestling with is whether these technologies should be used to make modifications in human reproductive cells. Changes made in these cells are heritable from one generation to the next, and are called germline modifications.

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Image: By Webridge – revised from, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2507161

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