We now have the power to quickly and easily alter DNA. It could eliminate disease. Ii could solve world hunger. It could provide unlimited clean energy. It could really get out of hand! ~Amy Maxme
You may have heard of CRISPR. If not, here’s a very brief definition:
Cas9 enzymes together with CRISPR [an acronym for for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”] sequences form the basis of a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 that can be used to edit genes within organisms. This editing process has a wide variety of applications including basic biological research, development of biotechnology products, and treatment of diseases. ~Wikipedia
CRISPR-Cas9 can be likened to a word processor for genes: find, delete, copy, and paste DNA sequences. Here’s a great YouTube animation of how it works: CRISPR for Dummies.
In this issue, I cover the use of this amazing DNA editing technology to help synthesize meat, develop better antibiotics, and vastly accelerate gene editing.
Using CRISPR to Make Meat without Farms
In a previous newsletter, I covered the Impossible Burger, an entirely plant-based “meat” that looks, smells, and tastes like beef — it even bleeds like meat!
Now, companies are working on real lab-grown meat derived from beef and chicken muscle and fat cells using a patented CRISPR process. Even yummier!
“Technologies like CRISPR allow us to safely increase the quality of our cell growth, which means we will make meat that is tastier, healthier, and more sustainable than slaughtered meat,” Brian Spears, the co-founder and CEO of New Age Meats, told Business Insider.
Good News: So-called “cultured meat” will help reduce meat’s negative environmental impacts, from the land and water it requires to the ethical issues surrounding factory farming. I trust they won’t call it Soylent Green!
CRISPR Repurposed to Develop Better Antibiotics
Instead of cutting/pasting DNA, another “defanged” form called CRISPRi sits on the DNA, blocking proteins that generally turn on a particular bacterial gene. This way, thousands of genes in bacteria can be screened as potential antibiotic targets.
Most people, when they think about CRISPR, think about gene editing. … What [our research] means is that you can now do studies on how antibiotics work directly in these pathogens. That could give us a better clue about how these drugs work in the different organisms and potentially what we can do to make them better.” says Jason Peters, a UW-Madison professor of pharmaceutical sciences.
Good News: Resistance to current antibiotics is a severe problem, one estimated to endanger millions of lives and cost billions each year. This new CRISPRi technique promises to improve existing antibiotics and develop new ones.
Genome Engineers Made More than 13,000 CRISPR Edits in a Single Cell
Typically, CRISPR is used to make one gene edit at a time. However, scientists at Harvard have used a new technique to make a record 13,000 edits in a single cell.
The group, led by gene technologist George Church, wants to rewrite genomes at a far larger scale than has currently been possible, something it says could ultimately lead to the “radical redesign” of species — even humans.
Good News: Though this technology sounds scary, it has already been used to remove retrovirus in pigs, potentially making their organs safe for human transplants. One day CRISPR could even help create supplies of human organs and tissues whose genomes are revised, so they are immune to all viruses!
It seems that the CRISPR-Cas9 technology has unlimited possibilities to cure disease and increase our food supply while helping to protect the environment. Look at some other ways CRISPR is being used now. It remains to be seen whether this tech might also be put to unethical ends such as giving us the God-like power to design our babies or a master race! It certainly is a brave new world, but I’m…