The Rock’s CRISPR 'Rampage' Tweet Sends Science Community into Frenzy

Before he was The Rock, Dwayne Johnson was a science major.

The hotly anticipated video game-turned-romcom, Rampage, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson premieres Friday, but bright and early Thursday morning, he was already nerding out on Twitter about the science behind the film. In Rampage, weaponized gene editing causes an albino gorilla, as well as a wolf and an alligator, to balloon to monumental size. The technology in question is CRISPR, a gene editing technique that has revolutionized the field of genetic manipulation and, it seems, slightly confused Johnson.

In his tweet on Thursday, Johnson linked to a story written by STAT reporters who watched Rampage and weighed in on its scientific accuracy. In the tweet, he expressed his admiration for his “fellow Science majors” and admitted that the acronym CRISPR consistently confused him. Megan Thielking, who co-wrote the article, called it the best thing that has ever happened to her and replied to the tweet illustrating the excitement of his science-minded fans.

Most people know The Rock as a professional wrestler, Hollywood actor, and expressive eyebrow-haver, but few know the details of his educational background. Before he was The Rock, Johnson attended the University of Miami on a full scholarship for football. He graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of General Studies in criminology and physiology, so he definitely studied science in college.

If you, like Johnson, are confused about CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”), it stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” This, in turn, refers to the bacterial immune system that spurred the development of CRISPR gene editing technology. CRISPR mimics this system, precisely snipping and inserting sections of DNA into existing genetic code.

In the Nineties, scientists noticed that bacterial DNA contained short patterns of nucleotide sequences that repeated regularly in the bacterial genome. Eventually, they realized that these sequences were remnants of past viral infections and that the bacteria had incorporated sections of viral DNA into their own genetic code. This way, when the bacteria encountered the same viruses in the future, they’d quickly recognize the disease and be able to rapidly and effectively fight it off. By employing the Cas9 enzyme that bacteria use to snip their DNA codes to incorporate the viral DNA, scientists found they could cheaply and accurately edit any genetic code to insert any foreign sequence they wanted.

'Rampage' tells the love story between The Rock and a genetically modified gorilla.

CRISPR plays a major role in Rampage, if not a totally realistic one. Even if the science of Rampage turns out to be somewhat thin, we at least finally have an answer to The Rock’s burning question: “What’s happening to my friend?” It’s CRISPR, Dwayne. It’s CRISPR.

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