While scientists were able to edit the genomes of plants and animals before CRISPR technology was introduced in 2012, it took many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so. CRISPR revolutionized DNA editing by enabling scientists to find specific genes in DNA sequences and alter them to meet specific scientific goals with relative ease and at a low price. Multiple uses for this technology abound. Some projects, such as creating plants resistant to common pests or bacteria, have generated little fanfare; however, any notion of using CRISPR to modify human DNA to prevent hereditary diseases or disabilities in children has been extremely controversial as some accuse scientists of attempting to “play God” while others question the notion that creating a “perfect” human race would really be in humanity’s best interest. Another big problem with CRISPR is that it is not perfect. When editing or removing genes, the technology can inadvertently cut more deeply than intended, and even small mistakes can have an outsize, devastating impact. In some instances, CRISPR is unable to edit certain cells; in other instances, the technology can actually cause potentially dangerous cell mutations.
Next Generation Sequencing, or NGS as it is commonly known, is a relatively new technology designed to improve CRISPR’s accuracy rate to ensure results are as close to perfect as possible. It’s not as accurate as the Sanger sequencing method; in fact, scientists often use Sanger to check NGS results. However, NGS is faster, more cost-effective, and easier to use than the Sanger sequencing method as it can analyze hundreds of thousands of genes at one time. Using next generation sequencing, scientists can quickly, easily, and effectively analyze CRISPR edits to catch potentially harmful mutations and repair the damage. NGS has a 95% mutation detection success rate and a 100% specificity for various alterations, including splicing mutations, insertions, deletions, gross deletions, and SNPs.
While NGS has multiple uses, its most recent application has been in the field of medicine. Researchers recently explained to Nature Communications that one set of clinical trials had to be paused after s some patients developed health problems that could have been attributed to CRISPR gene editing. The NGS diagnostics showed that there were no forms of damage in the sequence, enabling researchers to better understand what could have caused the unexplained complications. Using CRISPR and next generation sequencing in tandem, researchers and medical professionals can create personalized medical treatment regimens to suit the needs and requirements of each patient.
The ability to successfully alter DNA can enable scientists to prevent genetic diseases and deformities in children, provide custom medical treatments to individuals battling with cancer and/or other health conditions, improve plant resiliency to insects and harmful bacteria, and more. In short, it could bring about significant positive change by improving overall health and well-being, boosting quality of life, and increasing food production worldwide. CRISPR technology, which is used to insert genes into and remove genes from DNA sequences, is highly accurate on its own but NGS has radically improved accuracy rates by enabling scientists to check multiple DNA sequences at once and flag potential errors for further analysis with the Sanger sequencing method. Using the two technologies together, researchers and medical professionals alike are able to learn more about how DNA works and what needs to be done to resolve vulnerabilities and prevent harmful mutations.