MetaCRISPR, how to edit microbiomes

Jill Banfield and Jennifer Doudna (photo by Keegan Houser)

The best way to summarize the new metaCRISPR approach, recently published in Nature Microbiology, is the Twitter thread by Jill Banfield:

  1. Major unlock of CRISPR potential empowered by metagenomics #NewMetaCRISPR. I’ve been hoping to see this happen for years: a way to edit the genomes of microorganisms within communities
  2. Link to paper:
  3. Life on earth is dominated by organisms that only exist in microbial communities, but many of their superpowers have been withheld from humanity by a cultivation barrier
  4. The cultivation barrier refers to the need to grow organisms all by themselves in order to study them in the laboratory… but microbes don’t like to grow alone
  5. If we could circumvent this barrier we could revolutionize our understanding of microbial capabilities and then harness new microbes to solve real-world problems
  6. Over thousands of years, experimentation, genius, and serendipity led to bread, beer, yogurt, and antibiotics. However, the challenges in climate, agriculture, and human health require us to break the cultivation barrier so we can harness more of biology’s inventions
  7. The genius of CRISPR is to edit life itself. That said, you can’t edit what you don’t know
  8. Over the last 20 years we have been developing metagenomic methods to bypass the cultivation barrier and uncover genome sequences of all organisms, making them visible for CRISPR-Cas editing
  9. The new Doudna/Banfield paper launches this revolution, sharing with the scientific community a set of integrated methods to change what microbes can do, even if the microbes have never been isolated in the lab
  10. Selectively kill dangerous microbes? Selectively enhance microbial abilities to break down greenhouse gases? Selectively knockout genes to learn about how microbes talk to each other? Blue sky ahead with #NewMetaCRISPR

Further links: the piece in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News and an interview given by Banfield to Nature Microbiology a few years ago.

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