Feng Zhang on how transposons hijacked CRISPR

CRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang walked through his current research projects at the national meeting of the Italian Genetics Association (AGI) on September 24. CRISPR associated transposases, retrovirus-like particles repurposed as delivery vehicles, the ancestry of CRISPR systems, and more. The first issue is probably the most fascinating. It’s actually amazing to see a new activity performed by some CRISPR systems: not to protect bacteria from viruses, but to help transposons jump into specific genome sites.

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The ever-expanding CRISPR toolbox

Credit: Mon Oo Yee/Innovative Genomics Institute

The list of the latest additions since the beginning of September is impressive. They are called CasMINI (see Molecular Cell), Cas7-11 (see Nature), OMEGAs (see Science), and come respectively from Stanford University (Stanley Qi Lab), MIT (McGovern Institute), and the Broad Institute (Zhang Lab). CasMINI is half the size of Cas9 and could be much easier to deliver. Cas7-11 is the Cas9 of RNA. OMEGAs are a new class of widespread RNA-guided enzymes, thought to be the ancestors of CRISPR.

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Nobel & Nobel – out of the ivory tower

Frances Arnold (Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2018 for the directed evolution of enzymes) and Jennifer Doudna (Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2020 for the invention of CRISPR)

They are two of only seven women who have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. At the Spark 2021 conference, they chatted about ethics, being women in science, the future of research, and much more. Frances Arnold was the interviewer and Jennifer Doudna the interviewee. The following is an extract of their conversation, dealing with the challenge of starting companies while running a top academic lab.

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CRISPR digital folklore

If you think science is boring, think again. The American cartoonist Randall Munroe drew a webcomic called Types of scientific paper and several scientists jumped on the bandwagon adapting the idea to their field. Here are “Types of genome editing paper” and “Types of CRISPR paper”. You can find more on Twitter (Types of bioethics/chemical biology/plant science/…).

Inside the CRISPR saga

What’s unique about this book are the insights into the relationships between the main characters of the CRISPR saga. The loyal friendship linking Jennifer Doudna and George Church. The growing distrust between Doudna and Zhang. Doudna’s sorrow that she and Charpentier have drifted apart, personally as well as scientifically. The last point is indeed a melancholic note in the Nobel-ending tale. Why did their friendship fall apart?

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