Today is World CRISPR Day, let’s feel a bit of genomic vertigo by exploring CRISPR’s orders of magnitude with the help of the CRISPR Journal. The latest editorial (“Extreme Genome Editing”) goes from micro to macro, from phages to forests. Let’s give some numbers.
The size of edits spans from a single nucleotide to the removal of genomic islands greater than 100 kb (almost six orders of magnitude). The size of edited organisms varies between 10−7 m for submicroscopic viruses to over 10 m for trees (more than eight orders of magnitude). The range of genomes is tens of kilobases to tens of gigabases (seven orders of magnitude).
“Some of these theoretical combinations thus reach frightening orders of magnitude, from the modification of a single base in a 30 kb bacteriophage administered in a single 1 ml dose to 1 kb inserted in a 30 Gb tree genome scaled up to 100,000 hectares of a commercial forest” (here is the full text for more enjoyment of CRISPR vertigo).
“Imagine CRISPR cures” is the title of the keynote by Fyodor Urnov at the World CRISPR Day conference on October 20. The talk was far from a celebration: “The fact that editing represents an approach to the majority of monogenic diseases in principle doesn’t mean that some biotech will take on disease number 823 in practice, and there are over 5,000 monogenic conditions on OMIM. Three years to IND in the best case scenario and cost scale of more than $6m per disease, that’s incompatible with either the promise of CRISPR to edit any given mutation which it can do or the unmet medical needs”. Don’t miss the on-demand video to learn more about the challenge of N=1 trials and Urnov’s call to arm against ultra-rare diseases.
The Nobel Prize for CRISPR is one of the most exciting ever assigned in chemistry and one of the most celebrated in the media, for reasons related to the invention and the inventors alike. On the one hand, the technique is changing the practice and the image of genetic engineering. On the other hand, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier are not merely great scientists; they are a success story in cracking the glass ceiling and a symbol of the strength of collaboration.
Announcing the more than well-deserved prize to Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, the chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry Claes Gustafsson said: “There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. It has not only revolutionised basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments.” However, the media mostly celebrated CRISPR therapeutic applications while forgetting agriculture in the coverage of the Nobel Prize. Yet Doudna has spoken often, and passionately, about what CRISPR can do for sustainable agriculture and did it again at the World CRISPR Day, a few days after the Nobel announcement.