Animal Farm. Fresh CRISPR stories

Wired cover April 2019Edited animals are in the news this week. Wired dedicates its cover story to “A more human livestock industry, brought to you by CRISPR,” focusing on experiments being done at the University of California, Davis. Alison Van Eenennaam is trying to alter sexual traits in cattle by targeting a single gene called SRY. The science is still difficult, however, and US regulations uncertain. Continue reading

The M-word and a CRISPR divorce

French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier (L) and professor Jennifer Doudna of the U.S. pose for the media during a visit to a painting exhibition by children about the genome, at the San Francisco park in OviedoWhere is Jennifer Doudna? This is the first thought most journalists had – me included – when reading the list of signatories to the call for the moratorium on heritable genome editing just published by Nature. The Boston team is well represented by Lander, Zhang and Liu (nobody would expect George Church to join that call). But the magnificent couple Doudna-Charpentier has conspicuously split up. Continue reading

CasX: the smaller the crispier

cas treeTime will tell if it is going to become the preferred enzyme for genome editing or just another useful tool in the expanding CRISPR kit. But the future of CasX looks bright. It is much smaller than the nucleases that have provided a foundation for this technology. Being fewer than a thousand amino acids, it offers clear advantages for delivery in comparison with Cas9, that is over 1,300 Aa. Continue reading

CRISPR best and worst in 2018

CRISPR contributed to Science’s Breakthrough of the Year and was also nominated for the Breakdown category by the same journal. The second nomination was an easy guess: He Jiankui and its baby-editing claim were also mentioned in Nature’s 10 for 2018. Much more interesting is the decision to celebrate cell-barcoding, the CRISPR-based technique used to track embryo development in stunning detail and over time. Continue reading

CRISPR seeds: the asexual revolution is now

apomictic rice UC Davis

Imtiyaz Khanday (left), Venkatesan Sundaresan (right)  with their apomictic rice  (credit: KARIN HIGGINS/UC DAVIS)

“To make a seed it takes a fruit,” pupils use to sing in Italy. Then students learn that there is an embryo inside seeds and it takes a pollen fertilized egg to make it. The dream of plant scientists, however, has always been to be able to produce seeds using only the cell egg. This dream has finally come true: a group led by Venkatesan Sundaresan, at UC Davis, has developed a rice variety capable of cloning its seed. Continue reading

CRISPR meets machine learning

If a donor template is not provided when CRISPR cuts the DNA, broken ends are fixed by natural repairing mechanisms in a way that is considered stochastic and heterogeneous. This makes template-free editing impractical beyond gene disruption, right? Wrong, according to a study published in Nature by Richard Sherwood and colleagues. Continue reading

Do we need a Global Observatory for Gene Editing?

osservatorio globale NatureEveryone knows IPCC, the forum created under the auspices of the United Nations to review the state of knowledge on climate change, draw scenarios on its impact, and compare alternative policies. Does the world need a similar body for the biotech revolution ahead, as claimed by Sheila Jasanoff and J. Benjamin Hurlbut in Nature? Is a Global Observatory on Gene Editing the solution to our CRISPR troubles? We asked a pioneer of gene therapy and a pioneer of gene drives, but also a bioethicist, a political scientist, a social psychologist, a science historian. Continue reading