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.”

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


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