Three hopes for CRISPR

easter eggs

Off-target paper retraction: Nature Methods has retracted a controversial study questioning CRISPR precision, after its authors admitted they were probably wrong. This blog’s wish is that future studies on CRISPR flaws and virtues are as reliable as the genome-editing technique.

Deregulation statement: US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced that USDA will not regulate edited plants as long as they could have been created through conventional breeding. Let’s hope Europe will follow the example.

Gene therapy going “organic”: that’s the hope expressed by Merlin Crossley, when commenting his Nature Genetics paper on mutations beneficial to patients with β-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia. The word organic here means that fetal hemoglobin production can be boosted without inserting foreign DNA.

Do we need a Global Observatory for Gene Editing?

osservatorio globale NatureEveryone knows IPCC, the forum created under the auspices of the United Nations to review the state of knowledge on climate change, draw scenarios on its impact, and compare alternative policies. Does the world need a similar body for the biotech revolution ahead, as claimed by Sheila Jasanoff and J. Benjamin Hurlbut in Nature? Is a Global Observatory on Gene Editing the solution to our CRISPR troubles? We asked a pioneer of gene therapy and a pioneer of gene drives, but also a bioethicist, a political scientist, a social psychologist, a science historian. Continue reading

CRISPR sci-fi, welcome to the post-identity world

changeagent

It’s 2045; the Gene Revolution is changing humanity. The US has lost its technological crown, and the biotech capital of the world is now Singapore. In Change Agent, the techno-thriller by Daniel Suarez, the night is lit by bioluminescent trees, children play with neotenic pets, drug addicts enjoy custom highs, specialized for their individual DNA. International law prohibits human edits beyond those designed to correct a short UN-approved list of genetic diseases. But a few years after ratification, the UN Treaty on Genetic Modification is already a dead letter. Continue reading

Editing tobacco for drugs rather than cigs

newcotiana tobacco plantsSmoking is an addiction; tobacco, however, is a model plant full of virtues. Docile to biotech interventions, metabolically exuberant, able to churn out plenty of proteins. Now it has attracted 7.2 million euros through an EU research project aiming to harvest biopharmaceuticals by harnessing the power of photosynthesis and new plant breeding techniques. Continue reading

CRISPR stocks, what’s boiling in the pot?

crispr stockUp and down, following the excitement for the latest scientific exploit or frustration for disappointing results. CRISPR is young but already knows how volatile is the market. “Preprint wipes millions off CRISPR companies’ stocks,” cries the March issue of Nature Biotechnology. Continue reading

xCas9: CRISPR gets easy-going

pam sequenceCRISPR needs to anchor itself near a short sequence called PAM to do its job. In the book “Modern Prometheus” (Cambridge University Press) James Kozubek says a PAM is like a shoehorn, where the Cas9 nuclease begins to clasp down to recognize the right site and cut. In order to fit every gene, a super-adjustable shoehorn would be needed. Think of it as the equivalent of a bump key that can open any door. A Broad Institute group led by David Liu has almost reached the goal with xCas9, the new super-adjustable Cas9 variant described in Nature this week. Continue reading