The Genetic Rescue Foundation Blog

Gene editing starts to save lives as human trials get under way

Gene editing involves altering or disabling existing genes, which used to be extremely difficult. It took many years to develop the gene-editing tool that saved Layla, but thanks to a revolutionary method known as CRISPR, this can now be done in just weeks.

In fact, CRISPR works so well that the first human trial involving the method has already begun. In China, it is being used to disable a gene called PD-1 in immune cells taken from individuals with cancer. The edited cells are then injected back into each person’s body. PD-1 codes for an “off switch” on the surface of immune cells, and many cancers evolve the ability to thwart immune attacks by flipping the PD-1 switch to “off”. On the edited immune cells there is no switch for cancer cells to flip.

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Reckless driving?

By exploiting selfish elements, geneticists can now fit a gene drive to practically any DNA sequence (assuming they have a map of the target creature’s genome), effectively directing that species’ genetic future.

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The Case for Bringing Back the Passenger Pigeon

North Dakota is not known for its pigeons. Or forests, for that matter. The state bird is the western meadowlark, a mellifluous yellow songbird often seen singing on fence posts. Such posts substitute for trees in much of North Dakota. The state is primarily covered in what was once short-grass prairie but is now mostly farms embedded in a human-made grassland, exceptions being the Badlands and a swath of boreal forest in the far north near Canada.

Yet it was near Williston, the heart of western North Dakota’s new boom-and-bust oil patch, that Ben Novak first fell in love with Ectopistes migratorius—the passenger pigeon, a bird that rarely graced this region, if ever.

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CRISPR toolbox expanded by protein that cuts RNA in two distinct ways

UC Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna, molecular biologist Robert Tijan and a team of researchers have expanded the role of the newly discovered CRISPR protein C2c2 that targets RNA instead of DNA.

C2c2 has been described as an RNA-guided RNA-cutting enzyme; however, a full understanding of how this protein acts to cleave RNA was lacking. In a paper published today in Nature titled “Two distinct RNase activities of CRISPR-C2c2 enable guide-RNA processing and RNA detection,” the researchers were able to show that C2c2 has not one, as previously thought, but two distinct RNA cutting activities that in concert can be harnessed for robust RNA detection and degradation.

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The beginning of the end for predators?

The government has announced its intention to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050. Prime Minister John Key said rats, possums and stoats kill 25 million native birds a year. He said the introduced pests also threatened the country’s economy and primary sector with a total cost of $3.3 billion a year. More than 7000 hectares of the New Zealand mainland as well as more than 150 offshore islands were now completely free of predators, Mr Key said. In addition a further 1 million hectares of conservation land were under sustained predator control. The government will invest $28 million in a new joint venture company called Predator Free New Zealand Ltd.

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A Guide To Gene Drives

In 2012, Jennifer Dounda and her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier published an article showing how a specific gene drive, known as CRISPR-Cas9, can be used to “drive” certain genetic properties through wild populations with astonishing ease. Gene drives are natural genetic systems that allow certain genes to bypass the rules of inheritance and thereby make themselves more likely to be passed along. The CRISPR system, modeled after a bacterial immune system, can be used to target and cut out specific sections of DNA (genes) and replace it with another desired sequence. While gene drives have been known about for a long time, the CRISPR system is a landmark discovery because for the first time geneticists have a tool that allows them to easily manipulate the genetic composition of wild populations.

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