Biohacker dead, don’t blame CRISPR


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.

CRISPR stocks, what’s boiling in the pot?

crispr stockUp and down, following the excitement for the latest scientific exploit or frustration for disappointing results. CRISPR is young but already knows how volatile is the market. “Preprint wipes millions off CRISPR companies’ stocks,” cries the March issue of Nature Biotechnology. Continue reading

xCas9: CRISPR gets easy-going

pam sequenceCRISPR needs to anchor itself near a short sequence called PAM to do its job. In the book “Modern Prometheus” (Cambridge University Press) James Kozubek says a PAM is like a shoehorn, where the Cas9 nuclease begins to clasp down to recognize the right site and cut. In order to fit every gene, a super-adjustable shoehorn would be needed. Think of it as the equivalent of a bump key that can open any door. A Broad Institute group led by David Liu has almost reached the goal with xCas9, the new super-adjustable Cas9 variant described in Nature this week. Continue reading

China vs USA: who leads the CRISPR race?

China vs US

The first human CRISPR trial approved in the United States is finally recruiting the first patient. In the meantime trials have grown to a dozen in China, considering those revealed by the Wall Street Journal inquiry besides the NIH database (check also this npr article for further details). Over 80 Chinese patients are already receiving a CRISPR-based treatment, while US researchers cautiously plan to test the safety of their experimental therapy on a single subject, and, if everything goes right, two more patients will be treated a month later. Is the West losing its genome-editing edge to Beijing? Continue reading

Playing a three of CRISPR kind

three acesIt is Science but it could be mistaken for The CRISPR Journal. The latest issue indeed runs three papers by three CRISPR aces – David Liu, Jennifer Doudna, and Feng Zhang – about the cutting-edge fields of biological recorders and advanced diagnostic tests. Continue reading

CRISPR latest edition

crispr-latest-edition[8047]There is hardly any day without CRISPR news. February starts with researchers correcting abnormalities associated with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (Science Advances) and performing allele-specific editing in blind mice (bioRxiv, forthcoming in The CRISPR Journal). A repechage from January also: how to get pluripotent stem cells by CRISPRing just one gene (Cell Stem Cell).