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Genome editing

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Lydia Villa Komaroff PhD ’75 speaks with NPR reporter Emily Kwong about her work in gene editing. Biotechnology and genetic engineering were “enormously impactful,” says Komaroff. “So impactful that molecular biology pretty much disappeared as a field, it has become a tool that is of use in every field of biology and medicine today.”


A study co-authored by researchers from MIT found that a person’s ancestry can impact CRISPR’s ability to edit genomes as intended, “particularly in people of African descent, whose genomes are most likely to differ from those used to steer CRISPR to a specific gene,” reports Jocelyn Kaiser for Science.


MIT startup Volta Labs is developing a new instrument that can automate the processes used to prepare genetic samples, reports Emma Betuel for TechCrunch. CEO and co-founder Udayan Umapathi ’17 is confident that with the right programming, the platform could allow “liquids to be manipulated in even more complex ways, like using magnetic fields to draw certain molecules out of samples for further analysis,” writes Betuel.

United Press International (UPI)

UPI reporter Brooks Hays writes that a new tool developed by researchers from MIT and other institutions can precisely control gene expression without altering the underlying gene sequence. “Scientists hope this new ability to silence any part of the human genome will lead to powerful insights into functionality of the human genome, as well as inspire new therapies for a variety of diseases and genetic disorders,” writes Hays.


Axios reporter Eileen Drage O’Reilly highlights how Prof. Feng Zhang and his colleagues have developed a new system that uses “jumping genes” to improve the accuracy of gene editing. “This is filling a gap we couldn't address before, to be able to insert DNA into the genome," says Zhang of the ability to insert large genomes in a directed way.


Researchers from MIT and other institutions have developed a new model for autism research that could enable new therapies and treatments, reports the Xinhua news agency. The model could “provide a basis for a deeper understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms of autism and the development of more transformative therapeutics.”


MIT researchers developed a new technique to make a more effective and precise CRISPR gene editing system, reports Eileen Drage O’Reilly for Axios. The system uses the new enzyme Cas12b, which has a “small size and precise targeting [that] will enable it to be used for in vivo applications in primary human cells,” O’Reilly explains.


In an article for STAT, Prof. Kevin Esvelt argues that non-profits should be the only entities allowed to develop and use new genome editing technologies. Esvelt writes that when it comes to controversial new technologies like gene drive, “keeping early applications in the nonprofit realm could help us make wiser decisions about whether, when, and how to move forward.”

CBS News- 60 Minutes

60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker sits down with Prof. Feng Zhang, “a scientist at the center of the CRISPR craze,” to help explain how the gene-editing tool works and its potential. “There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes,” says Zhang. “The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.”


Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have programmed CRISPR to “in essence, make edits when significant cellular events occur,” writes Kristin Brown for Gizmodo. “All this adds up to the potential of CRISPR as not just a gene-editing powerhouse, but a multifunctional tool that also works as a biosensor, a medical detective, and an invaluable instrument for basic research.”


Originally created by the Zhang Lab in 2017, CRISPR tool SHERLOCK has been improved upon to be three times more sensitive for detecting viruses and infections using an inexpensive test strip. Sharon Begley writes for STAT News, “A paper strip, like in a pregnancy test, is dipped into a sample, and if a line appears, the target molecule was detected — no instruments required.”

The Verge

A gene-editing tool called SHERLOCK, developed in Prof. Feng Zhang’s lab, allows for faster detection of infections and viruses, such as Zika and Dengue fever. “It does this by combining different types of CRISPR enzymes, which are unleashed together to target distinct bits of DNA and RNA, another of the major biological molecules found in all forms of life,” writes Alessandra Potenza for The Verge


Using nanotechnology and CRISPR, Prof. Daniel Anderson has turned off a cholesterol-related gene in mouse liver cells, reports Julie Steenhuysen for Reuters.  This new development “could lead to new ways to correct genes that cause high cholesterol and other liver diseases,” Steenhuysen writes.

Los Angeles Times

MIT scientists have developed a technique that could potentially be used one day to treat diseases of the brain, muscles, liver and kidneys by using CRISPR to edit RNA, writes Melissa Healy for The Los Angeles Times. Making edits to the chemical message of RNA, “doesn’t effect a permanent change in a cell’s architectural plan; rather, it essentially alters the implementation of that plan,” explains Healy. 

The Wall Street Journal

Prof. Feng Zhang and his colleagues have created a CRISPR-based system that can edit RNA in human cells, reports Amy Dockser Marcus for The Wall Street Journal. “The new RNA-editing system, which the scientists have dubbed Repair, allows the editing of individual RNA letters, correcting a common mutation known to play a role in a number of diseases.”