View CRISPR and beyond (from Nature Methods)

CRISPR is not just a tool for cutting DNA; it can do much more than that. Its key component, protein Cas9, can be accessorized with activators or repressors to modulate the transcription of target genes, and even with fluorescent proteins to visualize the architecture of the genome. “What’s been achieved so far could be just the tip of the iceberg,” according to this Nature Methods’s video. “When it comes to CRISPR’s potential, whatever comes next, it seems the CRISPR revolution is far from over.”

Zhang on tomorrow’s life sciences

830X320-fengzhangThe genome-editing pioneer ponders the future of life sciences in MIT Technology Review. Curiosity-driven research has unexpectedly led to transformative technologies such as CRISPR, writes Feng Zhang. CRISPR is also reciprocating, by broadening our ability to study the breadth of natural diversity. What an exciting time we live in.

 

Two big cheers for base editing

MUTATION

The rising star of base editing shadowed classic genome editing last week. I’m sure you heard about the ground-breaking papers respectively published by David Liu and Feng Zhang in Nature and Science. CRISPR enthusiasts have probably already enjoyed the piece by Jon Cohen on the new approach, i.e., the rearrangement of atoms in individual DNA letters to switch their identity without even cutting the DNA strands. But let’s take a look also at The Scientist, which runs two must-read articles about the details of the experiments. The first take-home message is the latest achievements are exciting, but base editors are not better than CRISPR, they’re just different. The second one, there is still room for improvement with base editing, and the best is yet to come.

Relieving the IP burden on ag research

broad-pioneer

CRISPR is cheap and easy enough to be employed in every lab not just by major ag-biotech companies. A serious roadblock standing in the way of researchers, however, threatened to limit the technology potential for plant breeding: intellectual property (IP) rights. The good news is that two major patent holders, DuPont Pioneer and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, have agreed to create a joint licensing framework for genome editing in agriculture. As a result, academic researchers are allowed to use CRISPR on plants free of charge, while biotech companies interested in commercial ag applications have a simplified procedure to access to the tools they need. Continue reading

Editing the celiac diet. Is it GM bread?

gluten-free

Wheat contains many genes coding for proteins that are toxic to people with celiac disease (gliadins), but CRISPR could edit them all out. Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (Córdoba, Spain) have managed to knockout up to 35 of these genes, reducing immunoreactivity by up to 85%. The 100% goal now seems to be at hand. But is biotech “gluten-free” bread tasty? And is it going to reach the market? We asked plant scientist Francisco Barro, corresponding author of the paper recently published in Plant Biotechnology Journal. Continue reading

Adding the RNA string to the CRISPR bow

zhang

So far we have learned that CRISPR may turn a faulty gene off by cutting and mutating its sequence. But what if we want to proceed more cautiously and avoid permanent changes to the genome? We could leave the target gene intact but ineffective, by intercepting and destroying the RNA messages with which it gives the wrong orders to the diseased cells. In this way it would be easier to go back if necessary. The good news is that CRISPR is a jack-of-all-trades, well-suited for the task, and the new approach (call it RNA targeting with CRISPR) is going to help to study human biology and diseases. One of the technique pioneer, Feng Zhang, has demonstrated in Nature last week that it can efficiently target RNA in mammalian cells (and also plants), equalizing and even surpassing the performance of the current tool of choice for RNA knockdown (RNA interference). In short, besides advancing its career as DNA editor, CRISPR has also found a second job in the RNA business. Continue reading