Single-gender worlds will remain a sci-fi fantasy. Gay and lesbian couples won’t become parents this way for the foreseeable future. This kind of manipulation is just too risky for humans. But unisexually reproducing mice are an impressive accomplishment, and CRISPR stands out again as a powerful research tool, opening up brand new possibilities for the study of genomic imprinting. For further details, please see the STAT News article about the Cell Stem Cell paper by Zhi-Kun Li.
It’s another CRISPR first: fixing a hereditary disease in utero. Scientists from Pennsylvania University and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used a base editor to rescue tyrosinemia in fetal mice. “The results of this proof-of-concept work demonstrate the possibility of efficiently performing gene editing before birth, pointing to a potential new therapeutic approach for selected congenital disorders,” Avery C. Rossidis and colleagues write in Nature Medicine. Continue reading
“Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?”. This is the question asked by Guy Reeves et al. in a policy forum published in Science today. The evolutionary geneticist from the Max Planck Institute and his German and French coauthors doubt that the Insect Allies program funded by Darpa in the US will realize significant agricultural benefits, e.g. in relation to drought, frost, flooding, herbicide, salinity, or disease. They fear, indeed, that it will be “widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their delivery, which – if true – would constitute a breach of the Biological Weapons Convention.” Continue reading
The trolley problem is a classic philosophical dilemma, and its variants have been used extensively to test moral intuitions. Scanning the brain of human subjects with functional MRI during task performance has proven useful to understand how emotion and reason interact when we ponder bioethical issues. It would be interesting to adopt those approaches to study the psychological barriers towards controversial innovations such as gene drives. Just imagine you alone are responsible for pressing a button and switching on gene drives in malaria-spreading mosquitoes. Someone is going to die, and you must decide whom to save. Continue reading
When the European Court of Justice ruled that CRISPR products must obey the same cumbersome rules as GMOs, European ag scientists were shocked. After complaining, it’s time to advance new proposals. A German council advising the Federal Government has just released its recommendations, calling for new EU legislation. According to the 17 members panel, named Bioökonomierat, we should adopt a differentiated approach to the genome-editing technology and its applications, ranging from single letter mutations to complex genome modifications. For example, graduated licensing and approval procedures for different classes of risk. Please see the main points below. Continue reading
It won’t be a candy bar like the one in the picture, but it will be the first CRISPR snack ever eaten in Italy and among the first in the world. A taste of rice edited in Milan, according to rumors. The initiative, organized by The Luca Coscioni Association for freedom of scientific research, will take place on September 18 at 10 am, in front of the Italian Parliament. The first CRISPR meal ever served was a tête-à-tête between a scientist and a journalist in Sweden in September 2016. A month later Calyxt hosted a dinner made with food edited with a different biotech tool in a famous restaurant in Manhattan. The Italian snack is different, however, because of its public nature and political aim. It’s a call to politicians, journalists and scientists to engage in the regulatory debate about genome editing after the EU Court of Justice ruled that edited plants are GMOs. GM field trials are banned in Italy and CRISPR represents a much-needed second chance for geneticists to get out of the impasse.
The battle for survival between bacteria and bacteriophages can be framed according to the Red Queen hypothesis. To avoid extinction bacteria must evolve new mechanisms of resistance, such as CRISPR immunity. Viruses, in turn, must evolve countermeasures to inactivate these resistance mechanisms, such as anti-CRISPR proteins. These natural inhibitors may well become biotech tools useful to keep genome-editing in check and are a minefield waiting to be explored. Jennifer Doudna and Joseph Bondy-Denomy used bioinformatics to find some of them, and have just published their findings in Science. Paraphrasing Dobzhansky’s famous dictum, nothing in biotechnology makes sense except in the light of evolution.