The first flower in the CRISPR garden

morning glory 1Spring in Japan is pink as cherry blossoms, but summer turns violet as the flowers of a climbing plant frequently grown in the gardens of the Rising Sun. It is a kind of morning glory, of the Ipomoea nil species, locally known as Asagao. This plant had its genome sequenced in 2016 and is now inaugurating the CRISPR era in floriculture. Continue reading

CRISPR news roundup

perv free piglets eGenesisIt’s mid-August, but CRISPR never goes on vacation. Not to be missed this week is the Science paper by George Church’s team. They have cloned 15 PERV-free piglets, meaning porcine retrovirus sequences have been edited out. The animals can now “serve as a foundation pig strain, which can be further engineered to provide safe and effective organ and tissue resources for xenotransplantation,” researchers write. According to the Harvard geneticist, the first pig-to-human transplants could occur within two years. Another article in the same journal feels the pulse of public perception of human genome editing, concluding that opinions are nuanced and the challenge is to find the best way to engage people in discussions about genome-editing regulation.

Engineering vs editing. What difference does it make to people?

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The destiny of new technologies greatly depends on their social acceptance. It makes sense, therefore, to try to understand whether the editing metaphor could make CRISPR appear more reassuring than other approaches to genetic modification. This idea has gained some ground and was discussed by several bioethicists in the American Journal of Bioethics. However, it is still an unproven hypothesis. A contribution to the debate comes from the journal Frontiers in Public Health, with a study suggesting that biotech metaphors have little impact on public perception. Continue reading

Is CRISPR feminine in Latin languages?

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CRISPR is on the lips of every science enthusiast nowadays, but are we correctly using this acronym? How do Latin languages assimilate hitech neologisms from English? Italian, like French and Spanish, virtually lacks the neutral gender. As a result new words referring to inanimate objects is problematic for non-anglosaxon speakers when forming an agreement with articles, pronouns or adjectives. The author of this blog is Italian and uses CRISPR as a feminine noun, am I right? If so, why is “laser” masculine in Latin languages? If the two technologies could switch their gender, would it affect how they are perceived? I asked for an opinion the Accademia della Crusca, which is the leading institute in the field of research on the Italian language. They asked Anna Thornton, from L’Aquila University, to answer these questions. First of all she stresses that there are no infallible rules in grammatical gender assignment, only trends.  Continue reading

Germany debates CRISPR


Germany stands out as the European country most interested in fostering an informed debate on CRISPR many uses. Today an interdisciplinary group of experts from the German National Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina) has published a Discussion Paper entitled “Ethical and legal assessment of genome editing in research on human cells”.  Experiments involving human embryos are prohibited by law in the country but the document suggests a possible compromise. Research should be permitted on “orphaned” embryos created for reproductive purposes but no longer going to be used for reproduction. In February the German academy co-organized a meeting on edited plants, discussing what kind of regulation would be suitable. In 2005 they published a statement on “The opportunities and limits of genome editing” and another one on molecular plant breeding. According to a Leopoldina official press-release, the annual assembly “will be intensively addressing the topic of genome editing” later this year.