CRISPR Genome Engineering: Back to Basics

CRISPR (or CRISPR-Cas9) is a revolutionary advancement with great implications for all aspects of science and medicine. CRISPR has the potential to change our lives for the better from the food we eat to the medicine we take. However, the growth and expansion of CRISPR technology to the public will not be organic. In order for it to mature and reach into our society we must all be prepared to take up the calling - whether you are preparing yourself for a career in science or teaching science to students. After all, with a technology capable of rewriting life itself, education will be the key to ensure it is put to good use.

This article will take you back to the CRISPR basics. To dive deeper into CRISPR genome engineering and prove your knowledge on your resume, register for our online CRISPR Certificate programs with free career mentorship provided by Dr. Kris to all enrolled students.

Do you plan to improve the world with CRISPR?

  • Yes, I plan to

  • I will improve the world, just not with CRISPR


What is CRISPR?

Gene editing isn’t a new field, but it has recently become much more efficient and user-friendly with the discovery of CRISPR. The ability to detect and edit genetic information more easily has enormous implications for modern medicine, biotechnology, sustainable agriculture, climate change, space exploration, forensics, diagnostics, and the list is constantly being expanded. It’s no wonder that Dr. Jennifer Doudna, UC Berkeley, and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, Max Plank Institute were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for their work with CRISPR gene editing. So far, scientists have used CRISPR to create more nutritious foods, improve DNA analysis techniques for crime scene investigations, build cells that can fight off cancer, cured blood disorders like sickle cell disease, and the amazing work continues at an increasing pace. CRISPR gene editing has enormous potential, but it also comes with ethical questions and implications that must be addressed. Despite these uncertainties, one thing is clear: our kids will inherit a world where they will have the power to rewrite life itself and they must decide how to use that power. Now imagine if we handed them that world, but failed to prepare them for it.

How does CRISPR work?

To understand how CRISPR works, it’s important to grasp the basics of DNA and genes. The genetic code of every organism on Earth is stored in DNA, which contains all the information needed to build and sustain life. Every organism—from plants and insects to humans—has a unique DNA code containing the instructions needed to build proteins. These proteins are what give each organism its unique traits and abilities, and they’re essential for all forms of life. For example, proteins encoded in human DNA give us our ability to build strong bones, heal wounds, and lift heavy objects. In its most basic form, CRISPR is akin to molecular scissors that can cut DNA sequences, allowing scientists to remove, add, or modify specific sections of genetic code and thereby alter the function of proteins. For example, Victoria Grey was born with a mutation in her genetic code that led to the production of a defective protein giving her sickle cell disease. For the first time in history, using CRISPR technology, scientists and medical professionals corrected her genetic defect, curing her of this otherwise incurable disease.

Therefore, learning about CRISPR genome engineering is not a “nice to have” but required to prepare yourself and your students for our future.

Where did CRISPR come from?

Today, we use the word CRISPR to define the gene editing technology as a whole. However, when it was first discovered, before it became a technology, it was simply a puzzling repetitive sequence found in bacteria. The discovery of these repetitive sequences was made in 1987 by Yoshizumi Ishino and later Francisco Mojia who coined the term CRISPR to stand for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats; quite literally a descriptor of how these weird sequences in bacteria looked.

It was not until decades later that Emmanuelle Charpentier who, along with her team of researchers to uncovered what purpose these repetitive sequences in bacteria had. If scientists really shout "Eureka" when they make a discovery (spoiler...we don't) this moment would be one of the worthy ones. Charpentier and her team identified a key component to the functioning of the CRISPR system, the guide RNA (gRNA) that was startlingly similar in sequence to bacteriophages (you know viruses that infect and kill bacteria). Now why would bacteria keep sequences of their invaders in their genome? That was the million dollar question. With more work and in collaboration with Jennifer Doudna, the pair continued to isolate the components of the CRISPR system and demonstrated that it's purpose was to act as the bacterial immune system protecting the bacterium from invasion by pathogens (e.g. bacteriophages). Soon it was demonstrated that by simply changing the gRNA sequence scientists could repurpose this tool to cut DNA from all kinds of sources and species! Doudna and Charpentier published their work in 2012 in their seminal article - which turns 10 years old this month. Oh and did I mention Doudna and Charpentier won the Nobel Prize for their work?!

3 lesser known ways CRISPR is changing the world

1) Catch criminals! Scientists at the NIH use CRISPR to enrich DNA samples for specific regions called STRs (Short Tandem Repeats) which are highly variable between individuals. As a result, we can more easily identify the individuals who leave their DNA at crime scenes. ​

2) Fight Climate Change Scientists at Synthetic Genomics (Exxon Mobil) use CRISPR to develop algae for improved lipid production - the main component to biofuels. This may reduce our reliance on fossil fuels!

3) Explore space Astronauts successfully demonstrate DNA repair in space using CRISPR technology! The work could help us improve our capabilities for long-duration space travel. Trip to Mars anyone?

How do you learn more about CRISPR?

Unfortunately, learning CRISPR independently without an expert guide can be quite challenging. The critical information is often buried in primary publications which can be unfriendly to read to say the least. Sources like YouTube or random articles online can get you part of the way, but often the reputation of the speakers or writers is questionable. As a result, most people lack access to learn about CRISPR. CRISPR Classroom is here to solve that with our accessible online courses - learn CRISPR and earn certificates from anywhere in the world whether you're in High School or getting your PhD!

Enroll in our courses to get....

1) One step closer to your future career in science!

2) Your science questions answered

3) Free career mentorship

4) Strengthened applications to grad school or your first job with our certificates

5) To meet other students from around the world

6) To learn CRISPR science from a CRISPR scientist

Register for CRISPR Foundations to deeply understand how CRISPR works and how it's changing our world today. Click below to learn more ⬇️



Kristina Tatiossian, PhD


CRISPR Classroom was founded to close the gap between STEM innovation and education, helping lower the barriers that parents, students, and educators face when searching for enriching and hands-on educational content. The company leverages their deep expertise in science storytelling to build learning programs for students at scale. With its foundations in educational innovation, the company's platforms integrate courses, hands-on experimental kits, and career education to advance both educator- and student-led initiatives. With its users from over 40 countries and thousands of others following their story on social media, CRISPR Classroom is at the forefront of STEM education enabling the next generation of students to think critically, solve complex problems, and address our most pressing issues with logic and creativity.