CRISPR futures. Q&A with Jennifer Doudna

Doudna, Jennifer

Credit: Keegan Houser/UC Berkeley

Interview given to Anna Meldolesi (Corriere della sera, 15 May 2018)

The CRISPR biomedical duel between China and the US has been called “Sputnik 2.0”. Is Europe being left behind?

JD: As with any disruptive technology, there is intense competition to lead. However, unlike the space race, the CRISPR research effort is global and more collaborative. We consistently see key advances in CRISPR technology shared through scientific papers, written and read by research teams around the world. This collective approach has helped to democratize the technology. However, differing regulations across countries may impact how we ultimately translate research into real-world applications that can benefit the most number of people with the most need. Researchers in Europe have made valuable contributions to the development and application of CRISPR and will continue to play a role in establishing global standards. Continue reading

Biohacker dead, don’t blame CRISPR

traywick

As far as we know, the passing of controversial DIY-bioentrepreneur Aaron Traywick has nothing to do with CRISPR. The cause of death is still unknown, and there is not even much information about the alleged herpes vaccine he self-injected a few months ago. According to media reports, it consisted of “live attenuated virus with a missing protein” or maybe contained “engineered copies of the virus DNA code.” Injecting yourself with an unproven concoction is obviously a bad idea, with or without CRISPR. The death news indeed puts biohacking at a crossroads, according to the Atlantic. But even more worrying is the MIT Technology Review scoop that Traywick has been planning human tests of a CRISPR therapy for lung cancer at a wellness center in Tijuana, Mexico. Stem cells researchers have raised the alarm over and over again in the past on unregulated clinics preying on desperate patients in lenient countries. The specter of nascent CRISPR-medical tourism in search of unproven treatments is an urgent issue to tackle.

CRISPR diving the coral reef

coral-bleachingThey are not super-corals genetically edited to repopulate the reef. However, the Acropora millepora described in PNAS last week are the first baby polyps ever CRISPRed in a lab, by a team involving Stanford University, UT-Austin and the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville. These uncontroversial organisms pave the way for future experiments to reveal the molecular basis of vulnerability to bleaching, the fatal loss of algal symbionts triggered by global warming. Most corals reproduce once or twice a year, ejecting huge quantities of sex cells resembling underwater snowflakes. The time window of these spawning events can be predicted quite accurately, so researchers can sample the reef at the right moment and collect early embryos for genetic manipulation. We discussed the experiment results and future perspectives of gene editing in corals with the paper’s first author Phil Cleves.

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Charting CRISPR ethical landscape

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More than 60 germline ethics statements have been released by the international community so far (Italy is not included in the figure). Carolyn Brokowski, from the Yale School of Medicine, read and analyzed them all in The CRISPR Journal. A glance at her pie chart reveals a snapshot of ​the experts’ opinions on the moral permissibility of heritable genome editing. Continue reading

CRISPR animals knock on regulator’s door

Roslin CRISPR pigs

When you hear the word GMOs, chances are high that you think of plants, not animals. In the last 20 years, indeed, the Frankenfood controversy has forestalled the use of genetic engineering in animal breeding. To date, only a single food animal can be eaten in a single country (the fast-growing AquAdvantage salmon approved in Canada), while transgenic plants are grown on more than 180 million hectares in over twenty countries. Genome editing is now knocking at animal farms, will the door open? Continue reading