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What Can CRISPr Teach Us About Ourselves?

image of cells
(Image: Getty Images)

CRISPr gene editing technology has been met with a lot of controversy over whether we should or should not be able to manipulate our own genetic variables. While some  CRISPr related news stories have raised ethical questions, some others have simply shed more light on how genes work. A recent study regarding how we handle venomous stings, is shedding light on some pretty remarkable ways that the great big natural world interacts with us at a cellular capacity. Today's Question Your World has it all! Venom, giant jelly fish, and high tech gene editing!  What can CRISPr teach us about ourselves?  Listen to this  Question Your World radio report produced by the  Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

There’s still a lot left to know about our own bodies and how they interact with the natural world.

For example, vacationers to the tropical waters around Australia might have a painful encounter with a box jellyfish, but we still know relatively little about how our bodies react to box jellyfish stings. Well, thanks to science we're getting a little closer to the complete picture of how we react to a very dangerous sting from a very dangerous animal.

First of all, most jellyfish venom and the way it interacts with our bodies still remain understudied. But for this particular study, scientists looked at the most venomous marine creature on Earth, the Australian box jellyfish. This thing clocks in at a  whopping 9 feet or so and has enough venom in its barbed tentacles to kill  60 humans!

Beyonce said it best folks, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly." A sting from this particular species results in excruciating pain, scarred skin from cellular death, and a larger dose could even lead to cardiac arrest and death. Scary stuff.

For  this study scientists were specifically looking at the issue of pain and cellular death and the subsequent scarring on the skin. Using  CRISPr gene editing technology, they took millions of human cells and then turned different genetic variables on or off. The cells were then exposed to this jelly toxin. By seeing which cells did and didn’t survive, they were able to observe which variables are involved in cell death in relation to this toxin.

It turns out  cellular cholesterolis a pathway by which this toxin can interact with the cell. Using existing drugs that reduce cellular cholesterol, researchers were able to make a repurposed medicine and administered it on both human cells in the lab, and on living mice that had interacted with that toxin. If applied within 15 minutes of the sting, the medicine prevented pain, cellular death, and scarring.

While considered a very  controversial technology, this team’s use of  CRISPr has allowed scientists to gain a better understanding of our own cellular nature. More research and study is needed, but perhaps one day  Beyonce and the rest of us could maybe be actually  ready for this jelly

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