The ever-expanding CRISPR toolbox

Credit: Mon Oo Yee/Innovative Genomics Institute

The list of the latest additions since the beginning of September is impressive. They are called CasMINI (see Molecular Cell), Cas7-11 (see Nature), OMEGAs (see Science), and come respectively from Stanford University (Stanley Qi Lab), MIT (McGovern Institute), and the Broad Institute (Zhang Lab). CasMINI is half the size of Cas9 and could be much easier to deliver. Cas7-11 is the Cas9 of RNA. OMEGAs are a new class of widespread RNA-guided enzymes, thought to be the ancestors of CRISPR.

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CRISPR antivirals, where are we now?

CRISPR-based diagnostic tests for Sars-Cov2 are coming, as you probably know. But what about CRISPR-based antiviral therapy? It would seem a natural outcome for a technology inspired by the way many bacteria fight their viruses. Indeed this kind of research is being pursued in a handful of labs, using a CRISPR enzyme targeting RNA instead of DNA.

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All-male mosquitoes to beat malaria

Anopheles gambiae (credit Alekos Simoni)

The idea is bold and seems to have worked fine. By using a DNA cutting enzyme to disrupt the X chromosome, researchers succeeded in distorting the sex ratio of offsprings, eventually leading to the all-male populations collapse. Andrea’s Crisanti and colleagues at the Imperial College London did it to caged Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes in their quest for a genetic strategy to beat malaria. Please see their paper in Nature Biotechnology and the Imperial College press release.

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CRISPR targeting COVID-19

Alexandra East-Seletsky graphic

Hopefully, CRISPR-based diagnostics will make an early debut amid COVID-19 outbreak. But what about a CRISPR prophylactic strategy to combat coronaviruses? The proof of concept is here, in bioRxiv, but it will be deployed in the next pandemic if we are lucky. It’s called PAC-MAN, like the videogame, stands for Prophylactic Antiviral CRISPR in huMAN cells, and comes from the Stanley Qi Lab.

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Prime-edited rice & CRISPR golden rice

Do you remember prime editing? It’s the new ‘search-and-replace’ genome editing technology that mediates targeted insertions, deletions, all 12 possible base-to-base conversions, and combinations thereof. The first good news is that David Liu et al. adapted prime editors for use in rice and wheat, so don’t miss their paper in Nature Biotechnology.

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A vertical farm for CRISPR food

Do you want it locally grown, water-saving and pesticide-free? Urban agriculture might suit you, with a little help from gene editing. Zachary Lippman’s team has already succeeded with Solanaceae fruit crops, optimizing tomatoes and ground-cherries for indoor production (see their paper in Nature Biotechnology).

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Nature Biotechnology features the explosion of Chinese biotech

China is the “Innovation Nation” and “The next biotech superpower”, according to the November issue of Nature Biotechnology. Beijing is “set to challenge the pre-eminence of the US drug market. If it can address gaps in its R&D ecosystem and clinical infrastructure, it may even become a home for biotech innovators”, says the editorial

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Plant editing gets easier with CRISPR loaded pollen

maisPollination is a natural way to deliver DNA into plant cells. So why not to use pollen as a vehicle for CRISPR machinery to start genome editing? HI Edit, as this approach is called, has been successfully tested by Syngenta in corn, Arabidopsis and wheat in the lab. Please see the paper just published in Nature Biotechnology by Timothy Kelliher et al., Jon Cohen’s piece in Science, and a quick guide to HI (haploid induction) from Current Biology. Leading wheat geneticist Cristobal Uauy of the John Innes Centre also showed high spirit, when asked for comment by email: “The possibility to genome edit any variety is revolutionary given that transformation is so difficult in many species. If I understand this correctly this would be a game changer as it would allow us to alter genes in elite cultivars.”