Wednesday, February 10, 2016

CRISPR Roundup: Weapons of Mass Destruction to Gene Spills

The technique called CRISPR and gene editing are making the news again this week, as they are likely to do for quite some time. So here is a quick roundup of stories and links for further examination.

Probably the most provocative story was the addition of gene editing by the nation’s top intelligence chief to a list of threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. Antonio Regalado wrote about the declaration in the MIT Technology Review but said specifics were not cited. Regadalo noted, however, that “scientists have previously speculated about whether CRISPR could be used to make ‘killer mosquitoes,’ plagues that wipe out staple crops or even a virus that snips at people’s DNA.”

Out here in California, the state's stem cell agency wrote about its gene editing review on its blog, The Stem Cellar. Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications, offered this quote from one agency governing board member, Jeff Sheehy:

“Do we need to think about the rights of the embryo donor? If they have a severe inheritable disease and the embryo they donated for research has been edited, with CRISPR or other tools, to remove that potential do they have a right to know about that or even access to that technology for their own use?”

Charles Piller of STAT caught up with the state stem cell agency’s examination of gene editing with a national overview. An excerpt:

“Among state agencies that support stem cell research — including in Texas, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland — only California’s has publicly contemplated human embryo gene editing. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and Bioinnovation Connecticut have not yet considered funding such experiments, their spokespersons said. The Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund has taken no position on this issue, and New York officials could not be reached for comment.”

Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at UC Davis, wrote on his blog about how CRISPR has
“...set the table for some novel kinds of technological problems for which we aren’t at all prepared including one that I call the ‘gene spill.’ ...We should be very concerned about the possibility that a self-propagating genetic modification could end up out in the real world via a technology called ‘gene drive’ in such a way that it spins out of control. That would be a gene spill.”

Ben Fidler of Exconomy had a piece this morning on the business side of CRISPR based on a conference in Boston. An excerpt:

“The big scare with CRISPR is off-target cuts; that the molecular scissors snip the wrong part of a person’s DNA and cause unintended effects. (Intellia Therapeutics CEO Nessan) Bermingham called this a 'very important question' but said CRISPR technology has come a long way.”
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