IT IS risky to predict who and what will win a Nobel prize. But some discoveries are so big that their receipt of science’s glitziest gong seems only a matter of time. One such is CRISPR-Cas9, a powerful gene-editing technique that is making the fraught and fiddly business of altering the genetic material of living organisms much easier.
Biologists have taken to CRISPR-Cas9 with gusto, first with animal experiments and now with tests on humans. In March researchers in China made history when they reported its first successful application to a disease-causing genetic mutation in human embryos. But their results were mixed. Although they achieved 100% success in correcting the faulty gene behind a type of anaemia called favism, they tested the technique in only two affected embryos. Of four others, carrying a mutation that causes thalassaemia, another anaemia, only one was successfully edited.