Menu

Gene Editing Among the Stars: The Opportunities and Risks of CRISPR in Space Exploration

Introduction

The advent of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology has revolutionized genetic engineering, offering unparalleled precision and efficiency in editing the genomes of living organisms.

This groundbreaking tool has opened new horizons across various scientific domains, including medicine, agriculture, and environmental science. One of the most intriguing and promising applications of CRISPR lies beyond our planet i.e., space exploration.

This article explores the potential and challenges of leveraging CRISPR technology for space exploration, shedding light on how this innovative tool can contribute to humanity’s quest to become a multi-planetary species while addressing the ethical and practical concerns that accompany such ambitious scientific pursuits.

CRISPR

DNA is the blueprint of life. It beholds various secrets of life, including instructions to develop, grow, reproduce, and survive.

However, due to some abnormalities in the sequence of nucleotides in DNA, the organisms may suffer from genetic diseases, which is why this technology was created as a gene editing tool.

CRISPR Cas9 was developed by Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and their teams in 2012. The main objective was to find out how bacteria fight off viral infections.

It emerged that bacteria have an adaptive immune system called the CRISPR System, which contains CRISPR-associated protein (Cas9), which acts as molecular scissors and cuts DNA at specific locations, enabling scientists to add, remove, or alter genetic material with unparalleled accuracy.

risk crispr space 1

Image-1. CRISPR – a gene editing tool. (Image Credit: NIH Image Library)

Potential of CRISPR

CRISPR holds significant potential for enhancing various aspects of space exploration and long-duration space missions. One of its promising applications is in developing radiation resistance.

In space, astronauts are frequently exposed to ionizing radiation, particularly galactic cosmic radiation, primarily composed of high-linear energy transfer (LET) particles that damage DNA (Why Space Radiation Matters, n.d.).

This exposure increases the risk of cancer, central nervous system issues, and other diseases. CRISPR enhances DNA repair mechanisms in human cells, which make them more resistant to radiation, thus preventing mutations and long-term health effects such as cancer (Stahl-Rommel et al., 2021).

Additionally, CRISPR can help adapt the human body to microgravity. Microgravity affects the body in various ways, including causing muscle atrophy and loss of bone mineral density.

Gene editing through CRISPR can counteract these effects, aiding in muscle maintenance and bone density preservation, and boosting the immune system to withstand the stresses of space travel.

Moreover, CRISPR can genetically engineer microbes, creating probiotics that maintain a healthy gut microbiome, essential for overall health during long-duration missions. It can also engineer bacteria and other microorganisms to be less harmful or eliminate pathogenic strains, reducing the risk of infections in cosmos where medical facilities are limited.

In agricultural development, CRISPR can enhance crop resilience to space environment stresses, such as low gravity, limited water availability, and high radiation, ensuring a sustainable food supply. It can also improve the nutritional content of space-grown crops to meet astronauts’ dietary needs.

risk crispr space 2

Image-2. Astronaut- weightlessness and exposed to radiations. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

Challenges of CRISPR

CRISPR technology faces several challenges. Ethical concerns arise from using CRISPR for germline gene editing, where parents edit the germline (sperm or eggs) for their future generation.

This raises significant ethical issues as these changes would be heritable and could have long-term implications for the human species.

Technical challenges include efficiently delivering CRISPR components, i.e., the editing machinery, to target cells and tissues, especially in the space environment where conditions differ from those on Earth.

Additionally, off-target consequences can occur when CRISPR edits unintended parts of the genome, leading to mutations and health issues.

There is also a risk that CRISPR-induced genetic changes, thought to be beneficial in the short term, could have detrimental effects in the long run, particularly in unique space conditions (Arvin M. Gouw, 2020).

Biosecurity risks are also a concern, as the same technology used to protect and enhance life in space can be used to engineer pathogens that are virulent or resistant to current treatments, posing a bioterrorism threat.

Resource constraints present another challenge, as there could be limitations in the availability of sophisticated equipment and materials required for gene editing in space, along with a lack of trained astronauts who can perform complex genetic modifications accurately.

Conclusion

In summary, while CRISPR holds tremendous potential to address key challenges in space exploration, such as enhancing human health through improved DNA repair mechanisms, protecting astronauts from cosmic radiation, and enabling the growth of stress-resistant crops for life support systems, it poses significant risks.

These risks include ethical concerns surrounding unintended genetic consequences and germline editing, biosecurity threats from the potential misuse of gene-editing technology, and technical challenges related to the delivery and long-term effects of CRISPR modifications.

Careful management and regulation are essential to harnessing CRISPR’s benefits while mitigating risks.

As MSRT/CRISPR Research Team (CRT), see you in our next article.

Reference

  • Arvin M. Gouw. (2020). CRISPR Challenges and Opportunities for Space Travel. Springer.
  • Stahl-Rommel, S., Li, D., Sung, M., Li, R., Vijayakumar, A., Atabay, K. D., Bushkin, G. G., Castro, C. L., Foley, K. D., Copeland, D. S., Castro-Wallace, S. L., Saavedra, E. A., Gleason, E. J., & Kraves, S. (2021). A CRISPR-based assay for the study of eukaryotic DNA repair onboard the International Space Station. PLOS.
  • Why Space Radiation Matters. (n.d.). NASA.

Beğen  6
Anannya Agrawal
Yazar

Sage University - Microbiology, MoEP - MSRT/CRISPR Research Team (CRT) Crew and MoEP Author.

Bir Cevap Yazın

E-posta hesabınız yayınlanmayacak. Gerekli alanlar * ile işaretlenmişlerdir

Yapılan Yorum (1)
  1. Avatar