“Uh Oh. CRISPR might not work on people”. A title like this on the MIT Technology Review website is not the best way to kick-start the new year. But wait, our motto still stands: keep calm and crispr on.
The first patient edited “in vivo” last week is a breaking news story, and zinc finger nuclease ZFN must be credited for the accomplishment. A putatively outdated system stealing the scene from the most celebrated technique for gene editing is a bit like Carl Lewis beating Usain Bolt at the Rio Olympics. Any wonder that tweets by some biotech-enthusiasts had something of a derby atmosphere, while many inattentive readers thought it was CRISPR stuff, as lay people never heard of ZFN before. Continue reading
Mosquito nets are not enough, vaccines are late to come, land reclamation in Africa is a challenge. But there is a new hope for defeating malaria, coming directly from the most advanced CRISPR frontier. The trick is a kind of genetic chain reaction fuelled by genetic elements called “gene drives”. Researchers are experimenting their power with the aim of crashing the number of mosquitoes responsible for Plasmodium transmission, by spreading genes that are bad for Anopheles gambiae. A gene behaving in Mendelian way has a 50% chance of being passed on from parent to offspring, but it can virtually reach 100% with a little help from a drive. Thus a gene designed to damage a harmful species can propagate within a few generations with a domino effect, until the population collapses. One of the founders of this futuristic strategy is an Italian molecular parasitologist: Andrea Crisanti, of the London Imperial College. We asked him to explain times and ways, strengths and risks of this approach. Continue reading
The aim is engaging: to treat an increasing number of diseases by correcting the underlying genetic defects. And researchers are breathing optimism at last. The San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) in Milan has already treated 58 patients (including ADA-SCID, leukodystrophy, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome and beta-thalassemia) and the count is approaching 300 worldwide. Moreover the promise of genome editing is looming on the horizon. We discussed the present and future of the field with the SR-Tiget director Luigi Naldini, who contributed to the latest report on human genome editing published by the US National Academies of Sciences and Medicine. Continue reading
Elementary dear Watson, we should have expected that. The CRISPR wave is hitting diagnostics, with a new high sensitivity detection platform named after Arthur Conan Doyle’s popular detective. The acronym SHERLOCK stands for “Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter UnLOCKing”. While the technique is used in thousands of labs to turn genes on and off, CRISPR embarks also on epidemiology and learns how to identify nucleic acids from viral and bacterial pathogens to diagnose infections. The paper published in Science by James Collins, Feng Zhang and colleagues heralds a new generation of low cost diagnostic tests with single-base specificity, easy to use even when oubreaks occur in remote areas. Continue reading