CRISPR/Cas9 Crash Course for Sci-Fi Writers

Introduction

I enjoy writing (or, at least, the idea of writing) about a veritable plethora of topics: philosophy, religion, politics, economics, society. However, my education is actually in the sciences – I am a published biochemist. This has made me strive for scientific accuracy, or at least scientific plausibility, in my fiction writing. For science fiction, the CRISPR/Cas9 system of gene editing leads to all sorts of possibilities, some of which I explore in my Incarnate novel series (shameless plug – book 2 coming soon!). In my novel, people use CRISPR/Cas9 to modify their somatic cells in order to give themselves practical biochemical upgrades (ie having one’s fingerprint pattern shift slowly over time so that the person cannot be tracked) to more aesthetic ones (ie giving oneself a series of subdermal bioluminescent vessels that can be lit up at will).

But if one wants to know how to better understand the possibilities and limitations to CRISPR/Cas9 (at least in its current state in August of 2018 – my novel series takes place in the future where some of the practical limitations will hopefully be overcome), it is necessary to understand how it actually works. Here, I am going to lay out in hopefully simple terms (although this may be somewhat technical at times) what CRISPR/Cas9 is, how it works, and what people are currently using it for (or debating whether they ought to use it for these things, anyway). This will not be an exhaustive review of everything CRISPR/Cas9 related, but it will hopefully make it understandable enough for the interested laity to know what it is and for fellow sci-fi writers to use it more effectively in their writing.

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