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Bird's eye view of three scissors that look the same, lined up on a white table. The two on the sides are slightly opened, while the middle is completely closed.

CRISPR-Cas9 is complicated.

That’s why scientists, entrepreneurs, and journalists like me have spent the past few years reaching for metaphors to try to make the mechanics of the revolutionary genome-editing technology easier for laypeople to understand. In text and imagery, we’ve drawn parallels to everything from garage tools to divine interventions.

But it must be said: Some of these analogies are better than others. To compile the definitive ranking, I sat down with STAT’s senior science writer Sharon Begley, a wordsmith who has herself compared CRISPR to “1,000 monkeys editing a Word document” and the kind of dog “you can train to retrieve everything from Frisbees to slippers to a cold beer.”

Sharon and I evaluated each of the metaphors we found by considering these three questions: Is it creative? Is it clear? And is it accurate? Below, our rankings of CRISPR analogies, ordered from worst to best:

A knockout punch


This is not how it works. This is not at all how it works.

We see where these marketers got started with their pun: Genetics researchers do...