BioRxiv: an instant quality check for CRISPR science (with a little help from Zuckerberg)

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It was August 2 when Nature published the latest stunning study, introducing to the world the first human embryos edited in the US by Shoukhrat Mitalipov. Not even a month had passed, and on August 28, those results have been challenged on a much younger and quick medium: the bioRxiv pre-print website. I felt like a déjà vu happening. It reminded me of the Nature Methods study questioning CRISPR’s precision in June. Within three weeks bioRxiv has already challenged the controversial data about off-target mutations by posting two critical analyses which soon became three. In short, this server is rewriting a part of CRISPR’s science and it is becoming an emergency tool for correcting mistakes that, inevitably, sometimes tarnish the most respected peer-reviewed publications. How does it work? Continue reading

Edited embryos. Why to say yes or no

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The exploit announced last week by Nature marks an advancement in CRISPR performance in human embryos big enough to say that yes, germ line editing will probably become a viable option sooner or later. It means that some genetic diseases (at least those caused by a single mutation) can be corrected not only in the treated individuals but also in their offspring. The idea of genetic diseases disappearing from the face of Earth is bound to remain a dream, as Eric Lander explained at the 2015 Washington Summit on Human Gene Editing. In short, with rare Mendelian diseases, the vast majority of situations can currently be addressed by in vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, while complex diseases are, well, too complex to handle. Anyway, when you come to efficiency and accuracy, results achieved by Shoukhrat Mitalipov and colleagues are exciting: CRISPR science walks on robust and fast legs. As for the bioethics of the experiment, we should try not to get stuck with overused labels. Continue reading

Clearing CRISPR of off-target suspicion

mathcrisprFaster, better, cheaper is a motto adopted by Nasa that perfectly fits CRISPR as well. The most popular technique for genetic modification, in fact, has the reputation of being quick, affordable and precise. This deserved good name was unexpectedly tarnished by a study questioning the technology precision, published in the June issue of Nature Methods. However, reports about CRISPR’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain. Just over a month later, three analyses challenging the controversial study are already available in the pre-publication archive bioRxiv, and Nature Methods has alerted its readers about the criticisms received by publishing an editorial note which could turn into a retraction. Continue reading

Nobody’s perfect. Neither CRISPR nor peer-review

nobodyPerfection is not of this world, and no technology is perfect. But tolling the bell for CRISPR because of a single preliminary study last week was premature at best. Many voices are doubting the meaning of the Nature Methods paper reporting “hundreds of unintended mutations” putatively caused by genome editing. Some researchers have already announced that critical analyses and rebuttals are forthcoming. Continue reading