Comments Roundup. A sad week for CRISPR crops in EU

CRISPR sad day

A shortlist of articles capturing ag scientists’ dismay at the recent EU verdict affecting the future of CRISPR crops:

Science Media Centre, Expert reaction to Court of Justice of the European Union ruling that GMO rules should cover plant genome editing techniques

Matt Ridley, EU’s anti-GMO crusade is unscientific and harmful

Mark Lynas, Scientific community defeated by green groups in European court ruling on gene edited crops

Carl Zimmer, What is a genetically modified crop? A European ruling sows confusion

The Observer view on Europe’s ban on gene-editing crops

Wired, European ruling could slow Africa’s push for CRISPR crops

 

 

 

How green is CRISPR future? The EU judgment is coming

sunflowers in Spain

Tomorrow, the European Court of Justice is set to pronounce a verdict on the legal status of organisms produced through mutagenesis. In January, the opinion of the Advocate General Michal Bobek was variously interpreted, but scientists are hopeful that the judgment of Case C 528/16 will help the European Commission to reasonably regulate new breeding technologies such as CRISPR. Continue reading

Another CRISPR havoc? That’s science, baby

keep-calm-and-sequence-dna

A paper published in Nature Biotechnology by Allan Bradley and colleagues from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, shows that classical CRISPR editing can cause large rearrangements of DNA near the target site in actively dividing cells. We may think of it as the latest CRISPR alarm, but also as a demonstration of how biomedical research works. Firstly: no technology is perfect, but the best ones are perfectible. CRISPR belongs to this category because it is an extraordinarily versatile and fast-evolving biotech platform. When reading news like “CRISPR causes this or that problem,” the first question to ask is: which CRISPR variant are we talking about? Continue reading

Ground-cherries: will they be the next berry crop?

physalis

Physalis fruits look like golden marbles, larger than a blueberry, smaller than a grape. Carl Zimmer tried one, liked the rich pineapple-orange taste and wrote about their crispy future in his new book (“She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity”). Ground-cherries, as they are called, belong to the same family as tomatoes but are an impossible challenge for traditional breeding because they have four copies of each chromosome rather than two. Continue reading

CRISPRing the Neanderthal’s mind

Neanderthal_minibrains

Sapiens vs Neanderthalized brain organoids (credit A. Muotri)

Taking a peek into the brain of a Neanderthal specimen would be a dream for whoever is interested in the evolution of human intelligence. To get an idea of the cognitive abilities of our closest relatives, so far, anthropologists and neuroscientists could only study the fossil and archaeological record, but a new exciting frontier is opening up where paleogenetics meets organoids and CRISPR technologies. By combining these approaches, two labs are independently developing mini-brains from human pluripotent stem cells edited to carry Neanderthal mutations. Alysson Muotri did it at UC San Diego, as Jon Cohen reported in Science last week. Svante Pääbo is doing it at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, as revealed by The Guardian in May. Forget George Church’s adventurous thoughts on cloning Neanderthals. The purpose here is to answer one of the most captivating questions ever asked: did the mind of these ancient men and women, who interbred with our sapiens ancestors before going extinct, work differently from ours? Last but not least, with respect to the ethics of experimenting with mini-brains, don’t miss the perspective published in Nature.

The CRISPR world we live in

crispr distribution

“As of January 2018 Addgene has distributed more than 100,000 CRISPR plasmids to 3,400 laboratories worldwide. More than 6,300 CRISPR-related plasmids have been developed by over 330 academic labs and deposited into Addgene’s collection. Geographically, new CRISPR plasmids have been developed and deposited to Addgene’s collection from the Americas (led by the United States), Europe (led by Denmark), Asia (led by China), and Oceania (led by Australia), and shipped to some 75 countries.” [Reference: Enabling the Rise of a CRISPR World, Caroline M. LaManna and Rodolphe Barrangou, The CRISPR Journal, Vol. 1, n. 3, 2018]