During the past two decades, the convergence of innovations in biotechnology, nanotechnology,
information technology and other fields has dramatically enhanced our scientific knowledge. As a
result, potentially far-reaching techniques evolved very rapidly within the space of just a few years.
Currently, the pace of innovation is so rapid that it is difficult to predict and sometimes takes much of
the scientific community, let alone the broader public, by surprise.
One such example is the successful completion of Human Genome Project1 which heralded a new
epoch in human history. The major outcome of this project is a fundamental understanding of human
DNA: It is long chain composed of 3 billion base pairs. Along with this long chain of base pairs certain
small sequences, typically made up of hundreds of thousands of base pairs, are called genes. Each
gene is a base pair sequence that contains a particular set of instructions, usually coding for a
particular protein or for a particular function. In human DNA there are approximately 19,000 genes.
Depending on the expression or suppression of certain genes human traits like intelligence, disease
predisposition, body metabolism etc are biologically encoded into our DNA. Apart from the genes that
comprise less than 2% of the total DNA, there are hundreds of thousands of functional regions in the
human genome whose task is to control gene expression. A growing body of knowledge in the
biomedical filed deals with identifying these correlations between genes, DNA structure and human
traits and diseases. At present we know the role of only a few hundreds of genes and functional
regions. There is a lot of work to be done to completely map the genes with their functions. This is a
mammoth task, but scientists are having powerful new technologies.
One such important development in recent years involves a new gene-editing technique called
clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) associated proteins 9 (CRISPR/Cas9)
technology. This new method greatly improves scientists’ ability to accurately and efficiently “edit”
the human genome, in both embryos and adults. Recently a review article has appeared in a reputed
scientific journal2. This review article summarises the present state of the art of CRISPR/Cas9
technology. The article discusses in detail about the ongoing research on CRISPR/Cas9 applications
related to disease modeling, correcting genetic disorders, combating infectious diseases, cancer
therapies etc. One of the biggest challenges that this technology faces, apart from the scientific and
technological challenges, is the government regulations of its development and applications. This
happens mostly due to the perceived ethical concerns about this technology which in turn is a result
of lack of proper public understanding of the science. In this context, it is very important for the
general public to be more aware and educated about the actual science involved in these
technologies. But often the scientific literature is not very accessible or easy to read for the general
public to understand the concepts. Here it is the role of the popular news media like the print media
and social media to educate the general public. In the following report, I will present how the popular
media is performing its role as the science communicator and public educator.