CRISPR futures. Q&A with Jennifer Doudna

Doudna, Jennifer

Credit: Keegan Houser/UC Berkeley

Interview given to Anna Meldolesi (Corriere della sera, 15 May 2018)

The CRISPR biomedical duel between China and the US has been called “Sputnik 2.0”. Is Europe being left behind?

JD: As with any disruptive technology, there is intense competition to lead. However, unlike the space race, the CRISPR research effort is global and more collaborative. We consistently see key advances in CRISPR technology shared through scientific papers, written and read by research teams around the world. This collective approach has helped to democratize the technology. However, differing regulations across countries may impact how we ultimately translate research into real-world applications that can benefit the most number of people with the most need. Researchers in Europe have made valuable contributions to the development and application of CRISPR and will continue to play a role in establishing global standards. Continue reading

CRISPR plants are coming, and USDA is fine

SoybeansThe US Department of Agriculture has given the green light to five CRISPR-edited plants in the last couple of years. See the table below, published by Nature Biotechnology this month. CRISPR is set to make its commercial debut in fields in 2020, with DuPont Pioneer’s waxy corn, and hopes are high that gene editing will give us the chance of rewriting the GMO debate. Continue reading

2018: Happy New Edit!

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2017 ends with over 3,000 CRISPR papers indexed by PubMed and 6,810,000 Google’s search results. There is no doubt that 2018 is going to be hot, with the brand new CRISPR Journal launching in 2018 and leading scientists convening at a super CRISPR meeting in Lithuania next June. Clinical trials for genetic diseases such as beta-thalassemia and Leber congenital amaurosis are expected to start, and a forthcoming European Court verdict could be a turning point for the future of edited crops. Happy new year and happy new edit then, surprisingly surprising surprises ahead!

Zinc fingers grab CRISPR for once

sangamo tweetThe first patient edited “in vivo” last week is a breaking news story, and zinc finger nuclease ZFN must be credited for the accomplishment. A putatively outdated system stealing the scene from the most celebrated technique for gene editing is a bit like Carl Lewis beating Usain Bolt at the Rio Olympics. Any wonder that tweets by some biotech-enthusiasts had something of a derby atmosphere, while many inattentive readers thought it was CRISPR stuff, as lay people never heard of ZFN before. Continue reading

Adding the RNA string to the CRISPR bow

zhang

So far we have learned that CRISPR may turn a faulty gene off by cutting and mutating its sequence. But what if we want to proceed more cautiously and avoid permanent changes to the genome? We could leave the target gene intact but ineffective, by intercepting and destroying the RNA messages with which it gives the wrong orders to the diseased cells. In this way it would be easier to go back if necessary. The good news is that CRISPR is a jack-of-all-trades, well-suited for the task, and the new approach (call it RNA targeting with CRISPR) is going to help to study human biology and diseases. One of the technique pioneer, Feng Zhang, has demonstrated in Nature last week that it can efficiently target RNA in mammalian cells (and also plants), equalizing and even surpassing the performance of the current tool of choice for RNA knockdown (RNA interference). In short, besides advancing its career as DNA editor, CRISPR has also found a second job in the RNA business. Continue reading

Editing embryos, the British way

embrioni UK.docxThey are the first human embryos edited in Europe and reported in scientific literature. The key difference with experiments already carried out in China and US is that the research published by Nature last week doesn’t have embryonic gene therapy in view. The London Francis Crick’s Institute team, in fact, was not interested in correcting disease-causing mutations but in increasing knowledge on human embryonic development. We asked one of the authors, Alessandro Bertero, to explain goals and results. The Italian researcher was pursuing his Ph.D. at Cambridge when he helped to refine the technique used by Kathy Niakan and colleagues to edit the genome of embryos. He answered our questions via Skype from America, where he continues working on embryonic stem cells as a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University Continue reading