Run, CRISPR, run

A few artists are already interested in using CRISPR to explore the border between biology and art, but scientists have so far been able to develop the artistic potential of genetics more elegantly and surprisingly. In this Nature paper, George Church’s group recalls the beginnings of cinematography by introducing old images of a galloping horse into a dividing bacterial population. Harvard researchers have chosen a historical sequence captured by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1887, using a code based on nucleotide triplets to specify pixels tonalities. The exploit is technically astonishing, and it is not just a divertissement. It represents a proof of concept that one day perhaps we will be able to build cellular recorders, that can collect and store what is going on inside cells. But enthusiasm for futuristic research applications is joined here by an ancient sense of wonder. That galloping horse turns upside down proportion and hierarchy: it is the great in the small, the elegant in the primitive, the mammal in bacteria. Science has become magic. Art indeed.

 

Clearing CRISPR of off-target suspicion

mathcrisprFaster, better, cheaper is a motto adopted by Nasa that perfectly fits CRISPR as well. The most popular technique for genetic modification, in fact, has the reputation of being quick, affordable and precise. This deserved good name was unexpectedly tarnished by a study questioning the technology precision, published in the June issue of Nature Methods. However, reports about CRISPR’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain. Just over a month later, three analyses challenging the controversial study are already available in the pre-publication archive bioRxiv, and Nature Methods has alerted its readers about the criticisms received by publishing an editorial note which could turn into a retraction. Continue reading

‘Do-it-yourself’ CRISPR kits. How much should we worry?

crisprkit+resize-edFrom the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control website.

«On 24 March 2017, German authorities reported the contamination of a ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) Bacterial Gene Engineering CRISPR kit with pathogenic bacteria (risk group 2), including some that are multidrug-resistant with production of Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamase (ESBL). The kits are produced in the United States and sold over the internet, targeting non-professional users who want to study biology and life science using similar biotechnology engineering tools found in laboratory settings. In its risk assessment published today, ECDC identifies the risk of infection for users of the kits unaware of the contamination with pathogenic agent as low, as the manipulation of the kit does not involve percutaneous injury-prone manipulations. Continue reading

Edited crops, organic farming and Greenpeace Mag

fiblThe German publication Greenpeace Magazin interviewed Urs Niggli, the director of FiBL, a leading research institute on organic agriculture. In his opinion genome editing is going to be useful and edited crops should not be classified as GMOs but assessed on a case by case basis. The text below by Frauke Ladleif was translated and posted with the kind permission of Greenpeace Magazin/Hamburg. Continue reading

The art of learning from microbes

ecoli-1184pxBy 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