The science and story of CRISPR, a breakthrough technique for editing the genome, challenges a simple explanation or description. It’s like a natural scalpel that you release into a cell that follows specific find and replace instructions at the cellular level. We coded CRISPR into our science trends sector about a year ago when it was first announced to the public. Since then the topic has continued to gain media momentum and is now up +36 percent over the preceding 4-year period.

CRISPR is an emerging technology that’s allowing scientists to cheaply and efficiently perform genome engineering with unprecedented precision.

Its name, Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats, is a mouthful but significant. Basically, scientists found that in the genome of bacteria and other microorganisms, there exist these repeating DNA sequences that are regularly interspersed. In between these repeating sequences are unique sequences that match the DNA of viruses that attack these bacteria. What this means is that CRISPR contains the code of malicious viruses that the microorganism has encountered in the past. And this is only half the story. There also are genes that exist very close to CRISPR sequences that encode what are called “Cas” (CRISPR associated proteins). Cas has the ability to slice DNA. The most well known is Cas9 that comes from the bacteria responsible for strep. Together, the two form a powerful defense mechanism for these microorganisms.

CRISPR storylines advanced +1 point to close July at a new rating high of 65.  The topic move ahead 4 positions to a #16 among science topics (sharing the same rating position with personalized medicine, robotic surgery and nanomaterials).  While the topic of editing or manipulating the human genome is still controversial, the media sentiment is quite balanced with almost all coverage falling in the neutral sentiment category (86%).

The 4-year media trend shows a steady rating increase from a low of 28 to the current July rating high.  The medical applications of CRISPR are just beginning to find their way into the media conversation and could help propel the CRISPR topic to even greater rating visibility.