Would you buy a CRISPR salad from these men?

The company which developed the new vegetable (and is working on new varieties of cherries and berries) was founded by CRISPR top scientists David Liu, Keith Joung and Feng Zhang

By now it seems official. The first CRISPR plant to debut in the US market will not be a commodity for industry or intensive livestock farming, as was the case with classic GMOs in the 1990s. This time genetic innovation enters on tiptoe, with a food product designed for discerning consumers. A new type of salad, as nutrient-rich as a wild misticanza but without the bitter notes that usually relegate brassicas to foods to be eaten cooked (see here).

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Check out the pangenome, the graph of us all

The new pangenome reference is a collection of different genomes from which to compare an individual genome sequence. Like a map of the subway system, the pangenome graph has many possible routes for a sequence to take, represented by the different colors. Credit: Darryl Leja, NHGRI

We used to imagine DNA as the book of life, the code, the Rosetta stone of Homo sapiens. But the repertoire of metaphors needs updating. Today, our species portrait has taken on the appearance of a network of nodes and relationships. Welcome to the age of the pangenome: the collective genome (pan in Greek means everything) that aspires to become more and more complex, plural, cosmopolitan and inclusive.

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The lesson of Terry, the pioneer patient who didn’t make it

Terry and Richard Horgan (Courtesy of Cure Rare Disease)

He was the first patient to get a CRISPR therapy for muscular dystrophy. The first to receive a CRISPR treatment made specifically for him. And also the first to try a CRISPR approach that did not aim to change a DNA sequence but only its expression (epigenetic editing). Six months after Terry Horgan’s passing, his brother Richard disclosed the first information on the cause of death.

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Meet Klara, the trasparent CRISPR fish

The turquoise killifish is a small freshwater African fish and a model organism for studying aging. Now researchers will be able to observe the changes in individuals of this species (Nothobranchius furzeri) much more easily, as a German team has used CRISPR to inactivate three genes in one go, causing their vibrant pigmentation to disappear.

The transparent line, dubbed Klara, was presented on eLife, which also released this video on twitter. The idea is not new, in fact crystal-clear mutants of zebrafish and medaka already swim around in laboratories. But Klara is a valuable new arrival, especially for aging scientists. In fact, despite living only a few months to about a year, these fish show typical signs of mammalian aging including telomere shortening.

Apomixis, the Holy Grail is at hand

For a long time, it was no more than a botanical curiosity, of interest to a few scholars with a passion for taxonomy and evolution. Today, it has become the Holy Grail of agricultural genetics. We are talking about apomixis, i.e. the ability to produce viable seeds that are completely identical to the mother plant, bypassing the need for fertilisation. “Research has been going in waves, now we are on the crest,” says Emidio Albertini, an apomixis expert at the University of Perugia and the organiser of a recent workshop on the subject at the Plant & Animal Genome Conference (San Diego, 13 January 2023).

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UK embraces CRISPR crops

© Brian Bould/

While the European Union still grapples with the political complexity of revising its regulatory framework on GMOs, post-Brexit Britain has already made up its mind. In late March, London passed the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, with the royal assent and to the delight of British researchers. For those familiar with the history of the GM controversy, this is a momentous event with strong symbolic value.

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A tale of three Gs – grape, germs and genetics

“There is more wit in these bottles than in all the books of philosophy in the world,” wrote Louis Pasteur in 1843, looking forward to the pleasure of toasting with a friend (Charles Chappuis). The French microbiologist, whose bicentenary of birth was celebrated last year, was one of the fathers of the science of wine, as well as of germ theory. I wonder what he would write today, knowing how much progress is being made by geneticists to preserve the spirit of ancient vines while protecting them from the evils of diseases.

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The ChatGPT Rap

credit: University of Cambridge

The DNA double helix is about to turn 70 years old. I wrote about it in my column in the Italian magazine 7-Sette. But as a tribute, it still seemed a bit short. So I asked artificial intelligence for help: ‘Dear Chat, can you improvise a rap from the double helix to CRISPR?’ Said, done.

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Chronicles from the London editing summit

CRISPR patient Victoria Gray talking at the summit (credit The Royal Society)

The third – and perhaps final – act of the Human Genome Editing Initiative ended last week. The first summit (Washington 2015) was held amid enthusiasm for the invention of CRISPR, with the aim of fostering a constructive dialogue between science and society. The second edition (Hong Kong 2018) was dominated by the birth in China of the first edited human beings. The main points in the agenda of geneticists and bioethicists meeting a few days ago (London 2023) was to overcome the shock and focus on the next challenges: broadening the range of treatable diseases, reducing the costs of therapies, simplifying them so they can be administered anywhere in the world, and reach as many sick people as possible.

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CRISPR-enabled carbon capture. What’s up?

Credit CSRWire

The Innovative Genomics Institute runs a program aiming to “supercharge plants and soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere” with the help of CRISPR and funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Iniziative. I asked Andy Murdock, communications director at IGI, three questions to update the picture. Please see his answers below.

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