CRISPR too serious not to laugh at

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Dark matter is actually made of CRISPR. CRISPR can divide by zero. Jennifer Doudna didn’t discover CRISPR, CRISPR discovered Jennifer Doudna. Just take a look at this gallery and, if you like it, manage to get the paper on CRISPR digital ethnography published by Leah Lowthorp in the Journal of American Folklore. It all started with an overhyped Wired coverstory and a tweet by Daniel MacArthur (Harvard-MIT). A twitterstorm quickly followed, with over 1,500 tweets in two days. As you can see, CRISPR is too serious not to laugh at it!

From chili pepper to hot tomato?

this image shows jalapeño peppers (a cultivated variety of capsicum annuum) credit emmanuel rezende naves

Chili peppers have happily entered our kitchens with their capsaicinoid content, since Cristoforo Colombo brought then back from Central America. Capsicum species however are labour-intensive and difficult to grow. They are also notoriously recalcitrant to biotechnological intervention. Tomatoes are much handier in comparison. The Capsicum and Solanum clades split at least 19 Mya ago but comparative genomics has revealed that tomatoes retain all the necessary genes for pungency. Why not to harness CRISPR power to turn tomatoes into capsaicinoid biofactories then? Continue reading

Your CRISPR blogger tries the real thing

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My lab adventure in the Italian edition of Scientific American (Le Scienze)

It’s never too late to learn how to rewrite a genome. So here I am, attending this CRISPR school. Forget the do-it-yourself kits sold over the internet. I am lucky enough to take the first practical course on genome editing organized by the Italian Society of Agricultural Genetics (Siga) in Grugliasco, at the Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences of the University of Turin. After writing a lot about CRISPR, it’s time to try the real thing. Continue reading

CRISPR best and worst in 2018

CRISPR contributed to Science’s Breakthrough of the Year and was also nominated for the Breakdown category by the same journal. The second nomination was an easy guess: He Jiankui and its baby-editing claim were also mentioned in Nature’s 10 for 2018. Much more interesting is the decision to celebrate cell-barcoding, the CRISPR-based technique used to track embryo development in stunning detail and over time. Continue reading

CRISPR babies, not so breaking news?

nyt front page news

Never at the top of front pages (Nyt, 27 Nov. 2018)

Twenty days after the announcement, many questions remain. The one certainty seems to be that the first  CRISPR babies are less breaking news than expected.

They will be in front pages again, probably, if and when the scientific paper gets published, if and when the baby-editor He Jiankui resurfaces, if and when the first photos of Lulu and Nana are circulated. But if the coverage of Dolly the sheep is considered in comparison, there’s no match. Why?

The media world has changed dramatically in the meantime, CRISPR is still unknown to many, China is perceived as a Wild East where anything can happen. But a sheep is always a sheep, and babies are babies. We should care about the first edited kids more than that. Maybe people are less troubled by human genome editing than most bioethicists. Perhaps the media have had enough of Gattaca, Frankenstein, and the likes. Did we cry wolf too often yesterday to get people interested today?

CRISPR seeds: the asexual revolution is now

apomictic rice UC Davis

Imtiyaz Khanday (left), Venkatesan Sundaresan (right)  with their apomictic rice  (credit: KARIN HIGGINS/UC DAVIS)

“To make a seed it takes a fruit,” pupils use to sing in Italy. Then students learn that there is an embryo inside seeds and it takes a pollen fertilized egg to make it. The dream of plant scientists, however, has always been to be able to produce seeds using only the cell egg. This dream has finally come true: a group led by Venkatesan Sundaresan, at UC Davis, has developed a rice variety capable of cloning its seed. Continue reading

Milan toasts with biotech wine

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Assobiotec tasting event in Milan (photo credit: Marco Marazza)

When toasting during Christmas holidays, perhaps with a glass of Italian sparkling prosecco, think about it: viticulture in Europe occupies 3% of the cultivated area, but it accounts for 65% of all fungicides employed in agriculture. The adoption of new wine grape varieties resistant to powdery and downy mildew could significantly cut chemical use. If fairly regulated, advanced biotech tools such as CRISPR could help sustainability without losing anything of the genetic identity of iconic varieties. Continue reading