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GS Paper  3

Syllabus: Biotechnology


Source: Indian Express

 Direction: Biotechnology is one of the favourites for UPSC mains as well as prelims. CRISPR has reached a decade of development this year. Those giving mains this time, plz don’t ignore this topic.

 Context: Over the last 3 years, gene-editing technology with nearly unlimited potential has produced flawless results in clinical trials. India has approved a 5-year project to develop CRISPR to cure sickle cell anaemia.


Genome editing (also called gene editing) technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome. Several approaches to genome editing have been developed.


Working on CRISPR?

Its mechanism is often compared to the ‘cut-copy-paste’, or ‘find-replace’ functionalities in common computer programmes. A bad stretch in the DNA sequence, which is the cause of disease or disorder, is located, cut, and removed — and then replaced with a ‘correct’ sequence.

CRISPR Gene Editing 


Potential applications of genome editing technologies; –

      • Better understanding of diseases; – Most uses of genome editing have been in scientific research –for example, to investigate models of human disease.
        • Several therapeutic interventions using CRISPR for diseases like thalassaemia or sickle cell anaemia have gone into clinical trials
        • This will avoid most of the avoidable deaths in (e.g., due to cancer) in poor countries.
      • Identifying threats: genome editing has been used to develop a suite of tools that scientists can use to better understand new and existing pathogens.
        • This can help to develop and poor countries are prepared for incoming threats of diseases.
      • Developing new treatments: the potential of genome editing to impact the development and use of new treatments is tremendous.
        • Genome-editing technologies have a major advantage over traditional drugs in that they can target the genetic basis of disease. This can drastically lower the cost of life-threatening diseases.
      • Treating genetic diseases: it has huge potential in the field of genetic diseases.
        • Poor countries like Nigeria, Sudan and tribals in India have witnessed the rise in cases of diseases like Sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia etc.
      • Other potential uses: Genome-editing technologies also have a number of relevant applications to global health security outside of the human body.
        • Gene drives have the potential to control vectors and minimize the possibility of certain outbreaks whose impact is felt by poor countries more. It can help either by eliminating the vector entirely or by editing the vector’s genome to remove its ability to carry a particular agent.

Current Affairs 


Government steps:

In 2021: India approved a five-year project to develop this technology to cure sickle cell anaemia which mainly afflicts the tribal populations of the country.


The ethical dilemma

      • Designer Baby: In 2018, a Chinese researcher disclosed that he had altered the genes of a human embryo to prevent the infection of HIV. This was the first documented case of creating a ‘designer baby’, and it caused widespread concern in the scientific community.
      • Changes in the embryo pass on to the generations: It may thus create a community of superhumans. In the case of therapeutic interventions, the changes in genetic sequences remain with the individual and are not passed on to the offspring.


Insta Links

What is CRISPR-Cas9?


Practice Questions:

Q. Discuss the CRISPR gene-editing technology and the concerns raised by it. (250 words)

What is the Cas9 protein that is often mentioned in news? (UPSC 2019)

(a) A molecular scissors used in targeted gene editing

(b) A biosensor used in the accurate detection of pathogens in patients

(c) A gene that makes plants pest-resistant

(d) A herbicidal substance synthesized in genetically modified crops

Answer: A


With reference to agriculture in India, how can the technique of ‘genome sequencing’, often seen in the news, be used in the immediate future? (UPSC 2017)

    1. Genome sequencing can be used to identify genetic markers for disease resistance and drought tolerance in various crop plants.
    2. This technique helps in reducing the time required to develop new varieties of crop plants.
    3. It can be used to decipher the host-pathogen relationships in crops

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: D

Genome sequencing is a laboratory method that is used to determine the entire genetic makeup of a specific organism or cell type. This method can be used to find changes in areas of the genome. These changes may help scientists understand how specific diseases (such as cancer) form as well as modify the genetic makeup of crops as per our needs.