Gene drives & the trolley dilemma

malaria kills

The trolley problem is a classic philosophical dilemma, and its variants have been used extensively to test moral intuitions. Scanning the brain of human subjects with functional MRI during task performance has proven useful to understand how emotion and reason interact when we ponder bioethical issues. It would be interesting to adopt those approaches to study the psychological barriers towards controversial innovations such as gene drives. Just imagine you alone are responsible for pressing a button and switching on gene drives in malaria-spreading mosquitoes. Someone is going to die, and you must decide whom to save. Continue reading

Another CRISPR havoc? That’s science, baby

keep-calm-and-sequence-dna

A paper published in Nature Biotechnology by Allan Bradley and colleagues from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, shows that classical CRISPR editing can cause large rearrangements of DNA near the target site in actively dividing cells. We may think of it as the latest CRISPR alarm, but also as a demonstration of how biomedical research works. Firstly: no technology is perfect, but the best ones are perfectible. CRISPR belongs to this category because it is an extraordinarily versatile and fast-evolving biotech platform. When reading news like “CRISPR causes this or that problem,” the first question to ask is: which CRISPR variant are we talking about? 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

Evolving high fidelity CRISPR

ANNA CERESETO BISTURI GENOMICO BIOMEDICINA

credit Alessio Coser

It’s called evoCas9, and it’s the most accurate CRISPR editing system yet, according to a study just published in Nature Biotechnology. Researchers at the University of Trento, in northern Italy, induced random mutations in vitro on a piece of a bacterial gene coding for the DNA-cutting enzyme (the REC3 domain of SpCas9) and then screened the mutated variants in vivo in yeast colonies by looking at their color. If the molecular scissors work properly, cutting only the right target, the yeast becomes red, but colonies are white if CRISPR cuts off target. Continue reading

CRISPR Express: nanovectors are coming

nanoparticle MIT[1423]Suppose you have developed the winning weapon to defeat certain genetic diseases by reliably correcting pathogenic mutations. There is still a problem: how do you march onto the battlefield, inside sick cells? The weapon is the genome-editing machinery, and the most efficient vessel ever tested are lipid nanoparticles. With this approach, described in a study published in Nature Biotechnology last week, CRISPR has beaten its success record in adult animals, knocking out the target gene in about 80% of liver cells. Continue reading