A paper published in Nature Biotechnology by Allan Bradley and colleagues from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, shows that classical CRISPR editing can cause large rearrangements of DNA near the target site in actively dividing cells. We may think of it as the latest CRISPR alarm, but also as a demonstration of how biomedical research works. Firstly: no technology is perfect, but the best ones are perfectible. CRISPR belongs to this category because it is an extraordinarily versatile and fast-evolving biotech platform. When reading news like “CRISPR causes this or that problem,” the first question to ask is: which CRISPR variant are we talking about? Continue reading
Attending New breeding techniques: CRISPR/Cas9 in plants, the first theoretical-practical course on genome editing organized by SIGA (Italian Society of Agricultural Sciences) in Turin, 3-6 July 2018.
Physalis fruits look like golden marbles, larger than a blueberry, smaller than a grape. Carl Zimmer tried one, liked the rich pineapple-orange taste and wrote about their crispy future in his new book (“She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity”). Ground-cherries, as they are called, belong to the same family as tomatoes but are an impossible challenge for traditional breeding because they have four copies of each chromosome rather than two. Continue reading
Sapiens vs Neanderthalized brain organoids (credit A. Muotri)
Taking a peek into the brain of a Neanderthal specimen would be a dream for whoever is interested in the evolution of human intelligence. To get an idea of the cognitive abilities of our closest relatives, so far, anthropologists and neuroscientists could only study the fossil and archaeological record, but a new exciting frontier is opening up where paleogenetics meets organoids and CRISPR technologies. By combining these approaches, two labs are independently developing mini-brains from human pluripotent stem cells edited to carry Neanderthal mutations. Alysson Muotri did it at UC San Diego, as Jon Cohen reported in Science last week. Svante Pääbo is doing it at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, as revealed by The Guardian in May. Forget George Church’s adventurous thoughts on cloning Neanderthals. The purpose here is to answer one of the most captivating questions ever asked: did the mind of these ancient men and women, who interbred with our sapiens ancestors before going extinct, work differently from ours? Last but not least, with respect to the ethics of experimenting with mini-brains, don’t miss the perspective published in Nature.
“As of January 2018 Addgene has distributed more than 100,000 CRISPR plasmids to 3,400 laboratories worldwide. More than 6,300 CRISPR-related plasmids have been developed by over 330 academic labs and deposited into Addgene’s collection. Geographically, new CRISPR plasmids have been developed and deposited to Addgene’s collection from the Americas (led by the United States), Europe (led by Denmark), Asia (led by China), and Oceania (led by Australia), and shipped to some 75 countries.” [Reference: Enabling the Rise of a CRISPR World, Caroline M. LaManna and Rodolphe Barrangou, The CRISPR Journal, Vol. 1, n. 3, 2018]
Credit: Ernesto del Aguila III, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH
A pair of papers published in Nature Medicine have caused a stir about CRISPR-edited cells lacking a well-known tumor suppressor gene. STAT is doing an online chat next week to follow up the news. In the meantime, this is a sample of how the CRISPR community is commenting the story. Continue reading
Spanish microbiologist Francisco Mojica is credited with coining the name CRISPR, but crisper definitions are possible, as @KevinADavies tweeted some time ago. What does CRISPR “actually” stand for?