🔑 to being a Superhero

Valmik Rao
5 min readJan 12, 2020

Has anyone ever asked you what you want to be when you grow up?

and you say you wanna be a firefighter, but in your head, you really wanna be a superhero…

Knowing that becoming a superhero with powers from animals is nowhere near achievable right now, but it may be possible to a certain extent with the help of exponential technologies like CRISPR Cas-9 and genetic engineering. Before I tell you how you can become a superhero, let’s go over the fundamentals of gene editing and how CRISPR works.

What is Gene Editing?

Gene editing is a group of technologies that scientists use to change an organism’s DNA, technology like CRISPR, but before we get into how CRISPR works and what it uses specifically, let’s dive a bit deeper into genome editing.

Dolly (the first cloned sheep)

Dolly was a product of cloning, specifically where we take somatic cells and revert them to their totipotent state using genetic engineering (very similar to iPSC 😉).

The actual cloning itself isn’t what would be considered genetic engineering, but what supports cloning, the actual reverse state of the cells is what is considered genetic engineering.

The first stages of how Dolly was created is just harvesting certain cells from both the animals that are used to create Dolly, but then when we see the mammary cells in the nucleus of the Scottish Blackface that is a product of genetic engineering where they both are united and the nucleus accepts the new mammary cells that are then used to create blastocyst in the surrogate ewe.

Four bases create certain patterns in your DNA that make you look the way that you do, act the way you do, and think the way you do. These four bases are called Adenine (A), Cytosine ©, Thymine (T), Guanine (G) and they come together to make ACGT were only A and C pair and TG pair. These patterns are what gene editing targets, editing these types of specific patterns lead to changes in behavior or what those specific edits were supposed to effect. We’ve been talking about what we’re changing, let’s get into how we can change or alter genes.

What is CRISPR?

CRISPR-Cas9(clustered regulated interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR associated 9) is a gene that was adapted from a naturally occurring genome editing system in bacteria. How it works, is the bacteria capture snippets of DNA from invading viruses and uses them to create DNA segments known as CRISPR arrays. The CRISPR array allows the bacteria to “remember” the virus and then when the virus attacks again it can produce RNA segments to effectively attack the virus.

Well, CRISPR-Cas9 works similarly in a lab, where the RNA sequences are created that then bind to the DNA sequences that you wish to change, and then the Cas-9 gene acts like a pair of molecular scissors and cuts out the parts that you wish to change and then researchers add the new edited sequences.

The time’s come to find the 🔑 of being a superhero… Cross-Species Genetics

What is Cross-Species Genetics?

Cross-species genetics is an idea of bringing specific traits and genes from a different species and genetically engineering those traits into another species to improve the subjected species. The specific example I’m talking about is from animal to human, and we see a lot of this in the movie world’s where superheroes are formed through the transmission of “powers” from specific animals that possess those “powers” like spiders or lizards.

Personally, if you couldn’t tell, Spiderman is one of my favorites and I spent most of my childhood watching his movies and reading his comics wondering if I could ever become him?

If a kid told you today, that they wanted to be spiderman when they grew up you’d probably laugh.

But if a kid told you that they wanted to have a spider’s regenerative ability in a few years, you’d probably think about it or even agree.

Right now, this technology isn’t being explored enough for me to give you a definitive answer for how the process would look, but I can tell what the status quo is today.

The zebrafish have shown tremendous amounts of self-regenerative power, being able to grow eyes, tails, fins and even individual cell types on command or when they have lost one. John Hopkins research facilities have recognized the tremendous potential that this gene could have in cross-genetic experiments and could help other species learn how to regenerate at a zebrafish’s level.

They conducted their research on cross-species genetics by using the gene that makes jellyfish glow, and genetically modifying the DNA of a zebrafish so that when he regrows his liver would he demonstrate the same glow that jellyfish do. Now the zebrafish has a glowing liver!

They’ve started to look at mice as potential candidates for cross-species genetic testing from zebrafish because their DNA sequences show a high resemblance to ours.

Now, it’s pretty much impossible for us right now to achieve the level of harmony between human and animal right now, but this is a field that is expanding rapidly and this may be a window oppourtunity where we can harness specific “powers” that would increase strength, longevity, and intellect in humans!


  • Cross-species genetics has shown a lot of potential in animal families, and more research needs to be done if we want to bring that level of translation in humans
  • CRISPR-Cas9 was a tremendous breakthrough when it comes to gene editing, and how we can now pick apart the human genome to customize it
  • There have been examples of genetic engineering and the product that has sprouted from certain changes to different genomes, and how it works



Valmik Rao

Just a 16-year-old trying to solve the world’s biggest problems…