Developing CRISPR for developing countries

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Researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nairobi, Kenya, are using CRISPR to inactivate the banana streak virus DNA in the genome of plantain. Their strategy, reported in Communications Biology today, paves the way for improving banana breeding and getting better varieties of this staple food crop. This project is a welcome addition to the list of CRISPR applications being considered for developing countries’ agriculture, such as maize varieties resistant to lethal necrosis and cassava resistant to brown streak disease.

 

150 years after Mendel, say hello to CopyCat Mice

white miceDo you remember the first lab mice equipped with (almost) working CRISPR-based gene drives? The results were pre-printed in bioRxiv last July, but the paper by Kimberly Cooper and colleagues is published in Nature today.  The University of California San Diego has made a video explaining the experiment scheme. And Bruce Conklin, from the University of California San Francisco, comments “on the road to a gene drive in mammals” also in Nature. Below are few excerpts from his News&Views. Continue reading

CRISPR too serious not to laugh at

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Dark matter is actually made of CRISPR. CRISPR can divide by zero. Jennifer Doudna didn’t discover CRISPR, CRISPR discovered Jennifer Doudna. Just take a look at this gallery and, if you like it, manage to get the paper on CRISPR digital ethnography published by Leah Lowthorp in the Journal of American Folklore. It all started with an overhyped Wired coverstory and a tweet by Daniel MacArthur (Harvard-MIT). A twitterstorm quickly followed, with over 1,500 tweets in two days. As you can see, CRISPR is too serious not to laugh at it!

From chili pepper to hot tomato?

this image shows jalapeño peppers (a cultivated variety of capsicum annuum) credit emmanuel rezende naves

Chili peppers have happily entered our kitchens with their capsaicinoid content, since Cristoforo Colombo brought then back from Central America. Capsicum species however are labour-intensive and difficult to grow. They are also notoriously recalcitrant to biotechnological intervention. Tomatoes are much handier in comparison. The Capsicum and Solanum clades split at least 19 Mya ago but comparative genomics has revealed that tomatoes retain all the necessary genes for pungency. Why not to harness CRISPR power to turn tomatoes into capsaicinoid biofactories then? Continue reading

Your CRISPR blogger tries the real thing

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My lab adventure in the Italian edition of Scientific American (Le Scienze)

It’s never too late to learn how to rewrite a genome. So here I am, attending this CRISPR school. Forget the do-it-yourself kits sold over the internet. I am lucky enough to take the first practical course on genome editing organized by the Italian Society of Agricultural Genetics (Siga) in Grugliasco, at the Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences of the University of Turin. After writing a lot about CRISPR, it’s time to try the real thing. Continue reading

CRISPR best and worst in 2018

CRISPR contributed to Science’s Breakthrough of the Year and was also nominated for the Breakdown category by the same journal. The second nomination was an easy guess: He Jiankui and its baby-editing claim were also mentioned in Nature’s 10 for 2018. Much more interesting is the decision to celebrate cell-barcoding, the CRISPR-based technique used to track embryo development in stunning detail and over time. Continue reading

CRISPR babies, not so breaking news?

nyt front page news

Never at the top of front pages (Nyt, 27 Nov. 2018)

Twenty days after the announcement, many questions remain. The one certainty seems to be that the first  CRISPR babies are less breaking news than expected.

They will be in front pages again, probably, if and when the scientific paper gets published, if and when the baby-editor He Jiankui resurfaces, if and when the first photos of Lulu and Nana are circulated. But if the coverage of Dolly the sheep is considered in comparison, there’s no match. Why?

The media world has changed dramatically in the meantime, CRISPR is still unknown to many, China is perceived as a Wild East where anything can happen. But a sheep is always a sheep, and babies are babies. We should care about the first edited kids more than that. Maybe people are less troubled by human genome editing than most bioethicists. Perhaps the media have had enough of Gattaca, Frankenstein, and the likes. Did we cry wolf too often yesterday to get people interested today?