It’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.
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
From the conversation with Sam Kass, former White House Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition, at the Global Food Innovation Summit “Seeds & Chips” 2017 (Milan, May 9)
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 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.
The best explanations of CRISPR ever heard in 413 words, or 4 minutes and half of listening, is not an article from a prestigious science journal but a YouTube video where the wonders of the new technique of genetic modification are sung a cappella. We couldn’t not interview the author. Tim Blais was a fresh physics graduate when he turned its science-music into a professional activity by means of crowdfunding. That about CRISPR is probably his best video and has quickly become viral. Continue reading
CRISPR ’s debut in the cultural programming of the Italian television occurred at “Quante storie”, a 30 minutes book show aired by the public broadcasting company (Rai 3, 23 March 2017). It went with a genuine interest into understanding the science of genome editing and many questions from the classic repertoire concerning biotechnology, from worries about economic interests at play (but if we want drugs, the pharma industry must be there) to the risk of using the new technique for eugenics purposes (the long shadow of Nazism still makes us think blond children would be favored). Continue reading
By Antonio Polito
Do you remember Dolly, the sheep cloned 20 years ago? I was one of the many going on pilgrimage to visit her in its golden prison at the Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh. And like other reporters I was worried while talking with Dolly’s “father” Ian Wilmut, about practical and ethical implications of the breakthrough, which appeared huge at the time. Media were boiling with awe and outrage: is human cloning the next step? It would be evil or blessing? Are we playing God? Continue reading