CRISPR-based Covid tests: what’s going on?

Doudna’s creature (Mammoth Biosciences) and Zhang’s company (Sherlock Biosciences) are developing CRISPR-based coronavirus tests similar to a home pregnancy test: portable, cheap, fast, and simple. Both will be easily adapted to detect any new emerging virus. Both received emergency use authorizations in the US in the fall of 2020 and hope to enter the market by the end of 2021. According to this piece by Walter Isaacson, competition is hot but all the intellectual property questions have been put aside for common good.

Crispy weekend reads

This is an issue for all tastes and interests. Don’t miss (Broken) Promises of Sustainable Food and Agriculture through New Biotechnologies by Todd Kuiken, Rodolphe Barrangou and Khara Grieger; A Code of Ethics for Gene Drive Research by George Annas and other members of the Controlling and Countering Gene Editing in Mosquitoes research project funded by the DARPA Safe Genes program; The Cas9 Hammer and the Sickle by Fyodor Urnov.


Soon after the arrival of CRISPR, a report from Harvard compared the new gene-editing technique and its older sister side by side. As reported by Kevin Davies in the book “Editing Humanity,” CRISPR won convincingly, and this paper helped boost CRISPR’s popularity. This video shows that nowadays CRISPR is considered the best in terms of ease of design, ease of experimental setup, and flexibility. TALEN, however, is more precise. What about efficiency? Well, it depends. CRISPR works better in the less-tightly wound regions of the genome, but according to a recent Nature Communications paper, TALEN can access the heterochromatin region better than CRISPR. The study by Huimin Zhao and colleagues at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign adds to the evidence that the more (tools), the better.

CRISPR plants, climate change and the precautionary principle

This week’s suggested reading is the paper “EU policy must change to reflect the potential of gene editing for addressing climate change” by Sarah Garland published in Global Food Security. Garland’s article is a welcome addition to the debate and also a suggestion on how to get out with the impasse of the European Court of Justice ruling on genome editing. Here are a few excerpts:

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CRISPR tracks metastatic progression

Phylogenetic trees of tumors and metastases can reveal key features such as the clonality, timing, frequency, origins, and destinations of metastatic seeding. Each color in the image above represents a different location in the body. A very colorful tree shows a highly metastatic phenotype, where a cell’s descendants jumped many times between different tissues. A tree that is primarily one color represents a less metastatic cell. Credit Jeffrey Quinn/Whitehead Institute

CRISPR-based techniques allow the reconstruction of the “family tree” of the cells that compose an animal’s body by marking them with a pattern of deletions and insertions. This kind of barcoding has already helped trace embryo growth and organoid development and is shedding light on essential oncology questions by catching cancer in the act. Read how “Single-cell lineages reveal the rates, routes, and drivers of metastasis in cancer xenografts” in this Science paper and the news from Whitehead Institute.

CRISPR & GMOs, vive la différence

What’s the right way to regulate edited-plants? The question still waits for an answer in Brussels, and debate goes on in Europe.

According to Reuters, France backs non-GMO regulation for crop gene-editing in the EU. Gene editing of crops and livestock may soon be permitted in England, says the Guardian. Parliamentary commissions divided on new breeding techniques, media report in Italy. For a comparative viewpoint of regulatory frameworks globally, see the recent “Genome editing for crop improvement” by All European Academies.

Great progeria paper opens CRISPR new year

A paper published in Nature by CRISPR innovator David Liu and a giant in medical genetics, Francis Collins, raises great hopes for treating a rare, devastating pediatric disease causing premature-aging (Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome). “The outcome is incredible,” according to gene-therapy researcher Guangping Gao. “Dance on the lab bench” amazing, according to editing pioneer Fyodor Urnov. Let’s be clear: the CRISPR variant called a base-editor has helped only progeria mice so far, but results are beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. One injection is enough to fix the single-letter mutation in several tissues, doubling mice’s lifespan. To learn more, see David Liu’s tweets and the NIH Director’s Blog.

CRISPR highlights in 2020

The sickle cell trial in NEJM; Covid19 test using smartphone cameras in Cell; all-male mosquitoes in Nature Biotechnology; CRISPR golden rice in Nature Communications; CRISPR meets cancer therapy in Science; mitochondrial editing in Nature; first in vivo treatment in Nature news; resistant bananas in Nature news; very fast CRISPR in Science; body parts regrowing in Science.