Charting CRISPR ethical landscape

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More than 60 germline ethics statements have been released by the international community so far (Italy is not included in the figure). Carolyn Brokowski, from the Yale School of Medicine, read and analyzed them all in The CRISPR Journal. A glance at her pie chart reveals a snapshot of ​the experts’ opinions on the moral permissibility of heritable genome editing. Continue reading

CRISPR animals knock on regulator’s door

Roslin CRISPR pigs

When you hear the word GMOs, chances are high that you think of plants, not animals. In the last 20 years, indeed, the Frankenfood controversy has forestalled the use of genetic engineering in animal breeding. To date, only a single food animal can be eaten in a single country (the fast-growing AquAdvantage salmon approved in Canada), while transgenic plants are grown on more than 180 million hectares in over twenty countries. Genome editing is now knocking at animal farms, will the door open? Continue reading

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

CRISPR at the EU Court

advocate-general-opinionAgbiotech supporters and opponents have been waiting for months for the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, hoping that it would settle the fateful question: do edited plants follow the same legislation as GMOs? The answer, however, does not appear to be conclusive and has been variously interpreted. Nature, The Scientist, and The Guardian are cautiously optimistic, but this Euractiv article is even more interesting. Uncertainty is the prevailing mood in this field. Continue reading

Gene drives: the experiment goes social

harvard-mag-pete-ryanChoose a word to fill the gap in the sentence. “Gene drives are an ambitious experiment in …”. Genetics? Ecology? Evolution? Obviously, gene drives are all this and more. They may also represent a significant social experiment in risk communication, public engagement, participatory processes. Potential applications of this technology include controlling the transmission of vector-borne diseases and eliminating invasive species from sensitive ecosystems. We do not yet know if these genetic elements, designed to foster the preferential inheritance of a gene of interest with CRISPR’s help, will work in field trials as hoped. To find out, a green light to test this technology out of the labs will have to be negotiated with the public, stakeholders, regulators, and governments of affected countries. A first step in this direction was taken last week with the commitment to respect shared guiding principles in gene drive research and communication published in Science by the technology main sponsors and supporters. Signatory organizations are scattered around the world, from the US to India, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the forefront with its Target Malaria project. Continue reading

Testing the future of beer

birraThe Daily Beast has misunderstood, unfortunately, and the rose-scented CRISPR beer does not exist yet. But researchers are hopeful to try it in pilot-scale in the near future. A team from the University of Leuven in Belgium has identified two genes that could be used to generate novel flavor profiles in alcoholic beverages. They are called TOR1 and FAS2 and work by increasing the production of phenylethyl acetate in yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). CRISPR helped to swap the scented alleles into standard strains, which suddenly began producing more floral aromas. Continue reading