Ag research or biowarfare?

corndrought“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

Comments Roundup. A sad week for CRISPR crops in EU

CRISPR sad day

A shortlist of articles capturing ag scientists’ dismay at the recent EU verdict affecting the future of CRISPR crops:

Science Media Centre, Expert reaction to Court of Justice of the European Union ruling that GMO rules should cover plant genome editing techniques

Matt Ridley, EU’s anti-GMO crusade is unscientific and harmful

Mark Lynas, Scientific community defeated by green groups in European court ruling on gene edited crops

Carl Zimmer, What is a genetically modified crop? A European ruling sows confusion

The Observer view on Europe’s ban on gene-editing crops

Wired, European ruling could slow Africa’s push for CRISPR crops

 

 

 

Another CRISPR havoc? That’s science, baby

keep-calm-and-sequence-dna

A paper published in Nature Biotechnology by Allan Bradley and colleagues from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, shows that classical CRISPR editing can cause large rearrangements of DNA near the target site in actively dividing cells. We may think of it as the latest CRISPR alarm, but also as a demonstration of how biomedical research works. Firstly: no technology is perfect, but the best ones are perfectible. CRISPR belongs to this category because it is an extraordinarily versatile and fast-evolving biotech platform. When reading news like “CRISPR causes this or that problem,” the first question to ask is: which CRISPR variant are we talking about? Continue reading

CRISPR and the cancer link. Who said what?

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Credit: Ernesto del Aguila III, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH

A pair of papers published in Nature Medicine have caused a stir about CRISPR-edited cells lacking a well-known tumor suppressor gene. STAT is doing an online chat next week to follow up the news. In the meantime, this is a sample of how the CRISPR community is commenting the story. Continue reading

Biohacker dead, don’t blame CRISPR

traywick

As far as we know, the passing of controversial DIY-bioentrepreneur Aaron Traywick has nothing to do with CRISPR. The cause of death is still unknown, and there is not even much information about the alleged herpes vaccine he self-injected a few months ago. According to media reports, it consisted of “live attenuated virus with a missing protein” or maybe contained “engineered copies of the virus DNA code.” Injecting yourself with an unproven concoction is obviously a bad idea, with or without CRISPR. The death news indeed puts biohacking at a crossroads, according to the Atlantic. But even more worrying is the MIT Technology Review scoop that Traywick has been planning human tests of a CRISPR therapy for lung cancer at a wellness center in Tijuana, Mexico. Stem cells researchers have raised the alarm over and over again in the past on unregulated clinics preying on desperate patients in lenient countries. The specter of nascent CRISPR-medical tourism in search of unproven treatments is an urgent issue to tackle.

Three hopes for CRISPR

easter eggs

Off-target paper retraction: Nature Methods has retracted a controversial study questioning CRISPR precision, after its authors admitted they were probably wrong. This blog’s wish is that future studies on CRISPR flaws and virtues are as reliable as the genome-editing technique.

Deregulation statement: US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced that USDA will not regulate edited plants as long as they could have been created through conventional breeding. Let’s hope Europe will follow the example.

Gene therapy going “organic”: that’s the hope expressed by Merlin Crossley, when commenting his Nature Genetics paper on mutations beneficial to patients with β-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia. The word organic here means that fetal hemoglobin production can be boosted without inserting foreign DNA.

Do we need a Global Observatory for Gene Editing?

osservatorio globale NatureEveryone knows IPCC, the forum created under the auspices of the United Nations to review the state of knowledge on climate change, draw scenarios on its impact, and compare alternative policies. Does the world need a similar body for the biotech revolution ahead, as claimed by Sheila Jasanoff and J. Benjamin Hurlbut in Nature? Is a Global Observatory on Gene Editing the solution to our CRISPR troubles? We asked a pioneer of gene therapy and a pioneer of gene drives, but also a bioethicist, a political scientist, a social psychologist, a science historian. Continue reading