The CRISPR Revolution: 2016 In Genetics

From big breakthroughs in treating cancer and AIDS to changing your pets hair color–it was a big year for genetic breakthroughs in the new era of gene editing.

In 2016, farmers planted the first crops edited with CRISPR–a precise gene-editing method that the USDA doesn’t regulate like traditional GMOs. Gene-edited plants could help cure food allergies and resist drought and disease (though a major study published this year found that GMO crops failed to live up to some similar promises).


In the lab, CRISPR also shows promise to help cure sickle cell disease and AIDS (more frivolously, other researchers want to use gene editing to paint new designs in animal fur). In China in October, a patient with lung cancer became the first person to ever be treated with CRISPR-edited cells. Cancer trials in the U.S. will begin in 2017.

And in a year when thousands of pregnant women around the world may have been infected with the Zika virus, researchers also tested new ways to wipe out mosquitoes with gene editing (unsurprisingly, many biologists question whether humans should be deliberately driving a species into extinction).

[Illustration: Eric Palma for Fast Company]

1. CRISPR Is Going To Revolutionize Our Food System—And Start A New War Over GMOs


The gene-editing tool could create drought-resistant grain or allergy-free peanuts. Will a society on edge about genetically modified food embrace this newest innovation?

[Photo: Frans Kuypers, PhD:, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland]

2. CRISPR Gene Editing Is Making Huge Strides In Curing Sickle Cell Disease
Changing the DNA of a person’s bone marrow lets it produce blood cells that don’t have the deadly mutation.

[Photo: Yang Lab]

3. What Does The New CRISPR-Edited Mushroom Mean For Agriculture?
You’ll soon be eating gene-edited food and you might not even know it.

[Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images]

4. These Mosquitos Have A Genetic On-Off Switch That Makes Them Sterile
An insect birth control program with benefits for humans.

5. Scientists Can Now “Paint” Designs Onto Animal Fur Using Genetics
Cows can have tattoos. Rejoice.

6. Genetically Engineered Crops Aren’t Bad For Your Health, But They Aren’t Going To Feed The World
A major new report finds that the perils of GMOs don’t exist. But the promise is also vastly overblown.


7. What Genetically Engineered Animal Will Land On Your Dinner Plate Next?
Make way for mutant bacon.

8. Gene Editing Is Used To Eliminate HIV From Cells, Offering New Path To A Cure

Gene editing would have multiple advantages over today’s antiretroviral treatment.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."