Toward a Rhetoric of DNA: The Advent of CRISPR

Author: Michael J. Zerbe (York College of Pennslyvania)

  • Toward a Rhetoric of DNA: The Advent of CRISPR


    Toward a Rhetoric of DNA: The Advent of CRISPR



The nucleic acid DNA, which contains an organism’s genetic information, consists of a four-letter alphabet that has until recently been characterized as a read-only text. The development of a quick, inexpensive DNA targeting and manipulation technique called CRISPR, pronounced “crisper,” though, has changed DNA from this arhetorical, read-only data set, as it has been characterized in the rhetoric literature to date, to a fully rhetorical text—one that can be not only read but created, interpreted, copied, altered, and stored as well. The Book of Nature, an idea with roots in antiquity but popularized during the nineteenth century, provides proof of concept in the form of an historical and theoretical context in which DNA can be viewed in this light. Once ensconced in the Book of Nature, DNA can longer be considered a code; rather, it is a text. DNA text has structural components that are similar to those of traditional text, and now, with CRISPR, it also has purposes, audiences, and stakeholders. Given the enormous potential of DNA text for both good and ill, rhetoricians of science and medicine must participate in discussions of the complex literacy, policy, and ethics issues this new form of text brings about.

Keywords: DNA, CRISPR, Rhetoric of Science, Book of Nature, Text, Genetics, Literacy, Language

How to Cite:

Zerbe, M. J., (2019) “Toward a Rhetoric of DNA: The Advent of CRISPR”, Poroi 14(2). doi:

Rights: Copyright © 2019 the authors

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Published on
27 Feb 2019
Peer Reviewed
CC BY 4.0