From the double helix to CRISPR: Watson updates his genetic revolution

watson-book

Let’s read these letters: DNA. Who’s the first person who comes to your mind? The chances are high that you say James Watson, the politically incorrect half of the pair that in 1953 unveiled the double helix and the molecular basis of inheritance. It can be argued that this discovery opened the path leading to the invention of CRISPR sixty years later. The scientist who personifies one of the biggest turning points for human culture, now eighty-nine, has written what he thinks of the young technology for genome editing in the latest edition of “DNA. The Story of the Genetic Revolution “. The book, first published in 2003, has just been updated to cover the latest science and technology developments. Continue reading

The first flower in the CRISPR garden

morning glory 1Spring in Japan is pink as cherry blossoms, but summer turns violet as the flowers of a climbing plant frequently grown in the gardens of the Rising Sun. It is a kind of morning glory, of the Ipomoea nil species, locally known as Asagao. This plant had its genome sequenced in 2016 and is now inaugurating the CRISPR era in floriculture. Continue reading

BioRxiv: an instant quality check for CRISPR science (with a little help from Zuckerberg)

bioRxiv

It was August 2 when Nature published the latest stunning study, introducing to the world the first human embryos edited in the US by Shoukhrat Mitalipov. Not even a month had passed, and on August 28, those results have been challenged on a much younger and quick medium: the bioRxiv pre-print website. I felt like a déjà vu happening. It reminded me of the Nature Methods study questioning CRISPR’s precision in June. Within three weeks bioRxiv has already challenged the controversial data about off-target mutations by posting two critical analyses which soon became three. In short, this server is rewriting a part of CRISPR’s science and it is becoming an emergency tool for correcting mistakes that, inevitably, sometimes tarnish the most respected peer-reviewed publications. How does it work? Continue reading

A CRISPR punch makes ants asocial

egg laying ant 700x363In horror films of the 1950s mutant insects were a nightmare. Now they are a dream that is becoming a reality, at least for those interested in studying the molecular bases of social behaviors. Two teams have just succeeded in modifying ants DNA by knocking down their olfactory system and consequently putting their social interactions in disarray. The experiments, published in August in Cell, herald the beginning of a new scientific adventure: ants are set to become the model organism for eusociality studies in the post-genomic era. Continue reading

CRISPR news roundup

perv free piglets eGenesisIt’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.

Edited embryos. Why to say yes or no

embryo-mainThe exploit announced last week by Nature marks an advancement in CRISPR performance in human embryos big enough to say that yes, germ line editing will probably become a viable option sooner or later. It means that some genetic diseases (at least those caused by a single mutation) can be corrected not only in the treated individuals but also in their offspring. The idea of genetic diseases disappearing from the face of Earth is bound to remain a dream, as Eric Lander explained at the 2015 Washington Summit on Human Gene Editing. In short, with rare Mendelian diseases, the vast majority of situations can currently be addressed by in vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, while complex diseases are, well, too complex to handle. Anyway, when you come to efficiency and accuracy, results achieved by Shoukhrat Mitalipov and colleagues are exciting: CRISPR science walks on robust and fast legs. As for the bioethics of the experiment, we should try not to get stuck with overused labels. Continue reading