What’s unique about this book are the insights into the relationships between the main characters of the CRISPR saga. The loyal friendship linking Jennifer Doudna and George Church. The growing distrust between Doudna and Zhang. Doudna’s sorrow that she and Charpentier have drifted apart, personally as well as scientifically. The last point is indeed a melancholic note in the Nobel-ending tale. Why did their friendship fall apart?Continue reading
I watched Genesis 2.0, which is debuting in Italy almost two years after its release at the Sundance Film Festival. In the meanwhile, Semyon Grigoriyev has died. The Russian paleontologist leading the effort to clone a mammoth was one of the movie’s main characters. He always had little chance of success, and the plan’s odds are now worse than ever.Continue reading
Let’s imagine a hundred or more citizens from all over the globe, selected to partecipate in a giant focus group aiming to represent world views. It would be an unprecedented social experiment, that’s for sure, but the call is worth considering. The bold proposal comes from a group of social scientists and a few geneticists (George Church included) writing today in Science. Fascinating as it is, this kind of assembly is probably easier said than done. However, the main problem, in my opinion, comes next: what should experts and politicians do with the assembly’s deliberations?Continue reading
“Wow! Badass. 13,200 crispr base edits in a single cell! On the way to ‘recoded’ human cells,” tweeted Antonio Regalado before covering the news in MIT Technology Review. To be honest, the radical redesign of species is still sci-fi dystopia, but the paper preprinted by Cory J. Smith et al. in bioRxiv is impressive anyway. Continue reading
BioArt is entering the genome-editing era. The first CRISPR artwork is a World War II dress, patched with silk and bacteria by British bioartist Anna Dumitriu. You can read more about its science and meaning in the CRISPR Journal and Labiotech. But where does the dress come from? And if this is art indeed, what about the galloping horse CRISPRed by George Church last year? I asked Dumitriu, please find the answers below. Continue reading
A pair of papers published in Nature Medicine have caused a stir about CRISPR-edited cells lacking a well-known tumor suppressor gene. STAT is doing an online chat next week to follow up the news. In the meantime, this is a sample of how the CRISPR community is commenting the story. Continue reading
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
It’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.
A few artists are already interested in using CRISPR to explore the border between biology and art, but scientists have so far been able to develop the artistic potential of genetics more elegantly and surprisingly. In this Nature paper, George Church’s group recalls the beginnings of cinematography by introducing old images of a galloping horse into a dividing bacterial population. Harvard researchers have chosen a historical sequence captured by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1887, using a code based on nucleotide triplets to specify pixels tonalities. The exploit is technically astonishing, and it is not just a divertissement. It represents a proof of concept that one day perhaps we will be able to build cellular recorders, that can collect and store what is going on inside cells. But enthusiasm for futuristic research applications is joined here by an ancient sense of wonder. That galloping horse turns upside down proportion and hierarchy: it is the great in the small, the elegant in the primitive, the mammal in bacteria. Science has become magic. Art indeed.