This week saw a resolution to the grueling legal battle between the University of California at Berkeley and the Broad Institute over the discovery of the novel, cheap, and easy-to-use gene-editing technique known as CRISPR. The technique's original discoverers, Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, lost a patent battle to the Broad Institute's Feng Zhang over who first discovered that the technique could be used to edit human and animal DNA—a feat that has massive potential to treat and cure diseases.
Ever since CRISPR—the relatively cheap and easy-to-use genome editing technique—made its way to the scientific stage, researchers have grappled with one of its biggest ethical quagmires: Its ability to edit human embryos, thereby potentially altering the DNA of subsequent generations. The question of whether to allow such a drastic and permanent change has been discussed ad nauseum since it became clear that CRISPR would make this (relatively) easy to do. This week, a panel of experts from the National Academy of Science released a report endorsing this type of research—though a long list of caveats and precautions come in tow.
Genome editing company Editas Medicine plans to use CRISPR to treat an inherited eye disease, the company's president announced this week at the EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as MIT Tech Review reports. In a bid to be the first of at least a dozen companies to use CRISPR in a clinical setting, the company intends to test its treatment on patients before 2017.
For decades, scientists have modified plants' DNA in the lab to make the crops more appealing, or to better resist pests or disease. And in spite of controversy, the advent of genetic editing enzyme CRISPR has sped up this process. Now a team of Korean researchers has altered the CRISPR complex so that it can knock out genes without introducing new ones, according to a study published this week in Nature Biotechnology. The modifications are so minor that they might not even qualify as genetically modified foods according to most regulatory definitions of GMO, as Nature News reports.
The CRISPR genetic editing technique targets a series of repeated DNA sequences found in the genetic code of all sorts of organisms, from bacteria to humans. Special enzymes can find these repeated phrases and snip the DNA strands there; the cell then naturally stitches up the damaged DNA, so the organism can keep using it. But the method still isn't perfect—mistakes still happen more often than researchers would like. Now a team of biologists, led by researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, have found a tiny molecule that, when used with CRISPR, may make the editing process more precise, according to a study published last week in Cell.
The advent of enzyme complex CRISPR/Cas9 has ushered in a new age of genetic manipulation—it could help us cure diseases or resuscitate extinct species. One of CRISPR's big advantages is that it's much easier to use than its predecessors. So easy, in fact, that amateur biohackers are using it in their experiments, according to a report from Nature News.