About Anna Meldolesi

science writer

Editing the celiac diet. Is it GM bread?

gluten-free

Wheat contains many genes coding for proteins that are toxic to people with celiac disease (gliadins), but CRISPR could edit them all out. Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (Córdoba, Spain) have managed to knockout up to 35 of these genes, reducing immunoreactivity by up to 85%. The 100% goal now seems to be at hand. But is biotech “gluten-free” bread tasty? And is it going to reach the market? We asked plant scientist Francisco Barro, corresponding author of the paper recently published in Plant Biotechnology Journal. Continue reading

Adding the RNA string to the CRISPR bow

zhang

So far we have learned that CRISPR may turn a faulty gene off by cutting and mutating its sequence. But what if we want to proceed more cautiously and avoid permanent changes to the genome? We could leave the target gene intact but ineffective, by intercepting and destroying the RNA messages with which it gives the wrong orders to the diseased cells. In this way it would be easier to go back if necessary. The good news is that CRISPR is a jack-of-all-trades, well-suited for the task, and the new approach (call it RNA targeting with CRISPR) is going to help to study human biology and diseases. One of the technique pioneer, Feng Zhang, has demonstrated in Nature last week that it can efficiently target RNA in mammalian cells (and also plants), equalizing and even surpassing the performance of the current tool of choice for RNA knockdown (RNA interference). In short, besides advancing its career as DNA editor, CRISPR has also found a second job in the RNA business. Continue reading

China did it once again

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Junjiu Huang is back. Two years later, Protein & Cell publishes another study by the team which first edited human embryos in 2015 sparking uproar. They targeted the gene responsible for beta thalassemia, once again. This time, however, in place of using embryos discarded by fertilization clinics, they resorted to cloning. Furthermore, Huang and colleagues employed a CRISPR variant called base editor changing a single DNA letter without even cutting the double helix. The news is circulating among experts but has not yet attracted the media spotlight. Stem cell specialist Alessandro Bertero has brought it to the attention of CRISPeR Frenzy. According to the researcher involved in the British experiment just published in Nature, the latest paper from China is far from perfect but it’s quite interesting anyway (see his technical comment below). Continue reading

Debating the rules for CRISPR crops in Brussels

bruxelles cattura

The European Commission is organising the high-level conference “Modern Biotechnologies in Agriculture – Paving the way for responsible innovation”. This one-day event takes place in the Charlemagne Building today, from 9.30 to 18.00. The aim is to stimulate an informed and open debate among all stakeholders on how the EU can benefit from modern biotechnologies and innovation in the food and agricultural sector while maintaining high safety standards. The participants are prominent European policy makers, relevant industry stakeholders, representatives of civil society, scientists, and government experts. Webstreaming is available. For further information, see the conference website

 

Editing embryos, the British way

embrioni UK.docxThey are the first human embryos edited in Europe and reported in scientific literature. The key difference with experiments already carried out in China and US is that the research published by Nature last week doesn’t have embryonic gene therapy in view. The London Francis Crick’s Institute team, in fact, was not interested in correcting disease-causing mutations but in increasing knowledge on human embryonic development. We asked one of the authors, Alessandro Bertero, to explain goals and results. The Italian researcher was pursuing his Ph.D. at Cambridge when he helped to refine the technique used by Kathy Niakan and colleagues to edit the genome of embryos. He answered our questions via Skype from America, where he continues working on embryonic stem cells as a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University Continue reading

3 questions on CRISPR butterflies

19TB-BUTTERFLIES3-master675Biodiversity is a wonderful interplay between genetics and evolution, and butterflies are a fascinating example with their variety of patterns and colors. Understanding how the same gene networks engender visual effects so diverse in thousands of Lepidoptera species is a longtime ambition  for many entomologists and evolutionary biologists. The good news is that scientists nowadays have a straightforward technique working with organisms that were difficult to manipulate with conventional biotech tools. Obviously, we are talking about CRISPR. Two papers published in PNAS last week describe how genome editing was used to alter the genetic palette of colors in butterflies and how their wings changed as a result. We’ve asked the entomologist Alessio Vovlas, from the Polyxena association, to comment these stunning experiments. Continue reading