Scientists have successfully performed CRISPR gene editing in a live human body for the first time ever

CRISPR-Cas9 is the cutting-edge genomic technology that essentially lets you target exact sequences in DNA and then cut into them like a knife and insert or remove a gene. You may remember it from that Chinese scientist who successfully (but controversially) implanted gene-edited embryos into a woman who then gave birth to live lab babies. More often, it's used to create things like malaria-resistant mosquitoes or mushrooms that don't brown as fast.

But it does have a lot of practical medical potential, too. It's already been used to remove HIV from a patient's genome. And now, after CRISPRing out a blindness-causing gene from mice, scientists have now successfully scaled-up this procedure to work in a live human body. From NPR:

In this new experiment, doctors at the Casey Eye Institute in Portland, Ore., injected (into the eye of a patient who is nearly blind from a condition called Leber congenital amaurosis) microscopic droplets carrying a harmless virus that had been engineered to deliver the instructions to manufacture the CRISPR gene-editing machinery.

[…]

The goal is that once the virus carrying the CRISPR instructions has been infused into the eye, the gene-editing tool will slice out the genetic defect that caused the blindness. That would, the researchers hope, restore production of a crucial protein and prevent the death of cells in the retina, as well as revive other cells — enabling patients to regain at least some vision.

[…]

The procedure, which takes about an hour to perform, involves making tiny incisions that enable access to the back of the eye.

Read the rest

Russian CRISPR scientist announces new controversial effort to edit genes that cause deafness

Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov claims that he's begun a gene-editing process to eventually enable couples who both carry a specific genetic mutation that causes deafness to birth children who can hear. Rebrikov formerly announced his effort to use the CRISPR tool for gene editing to create babies resistant to HIV. From Nature:

In his e-mail to Nature, Rebrikov makes clear that he does not plan to create (a gene-edited) baby yet — and that his previously reported plan to apply this month for permission to implant gene-edited embryos in women has been pushed back.

Instead, he says that he will soon publish the results of his egg experiments, which also involved testing CRISPR’s ability to repair the gene linked to deafness, called GJB2, in bodily cells taken from people with this mutation. People with two mutated copies of GJB2 cannot hear well without interventions, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. Rebrikov says these results will lay the groundwork for the clinical work.

Rebrikov adds that he has permission from a local review board to do his research, but that this does not allow transfer of gene-edited eggs into the womb and subsequent pregnancy...

Some scientists and ethicists also call into question the benefits of this procedure because hearing loss is not a fatal condition. “The project is recklessly opportunistic, clearly unethical and damages the credibility of a technology that is intended to help, not harm,” says Jennifer Doudna, a pioneer of the CRISPR gene-editing tool and a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Read the rest

CRISPR twins who had their genes edited also had their brains altered to make them smarter, scientists believe

Scientists believe that the "CRISPR twins," who had their genes edited last year before birth, will now have an easier time learning and memorizing. Apparently, the gene alteration, which was meant to make the girls immune to HIV, also altered their brains. Read the rest

Chinese scientist who edited babies' genes has been fired and may face criminal charges

An investigation by the health ministry in Guangdong, China determined that scientist He Jiankui broke national laws when he used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to engineer human embryos with resistance to HIV and then implanted the embryos into women who then birthed the babies. Based on the probe, the Southern University of Science and Technology has fired He from his position as a researcher and teacher there. According to an article in the Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, police may also explore charges against He and his colleagues. From Nature:

The Xinhua article confirms many details of the case for the first time: starting in June 2016, it says, He put together a team that, from March 2017, recruited eight couples consisting of an HIV-positive father and an HIV-negative mother. He’s team edited the genes of embryos from at least two couples. (The Xinhua article does not specify what type of gene editing was done, although He claims that the embryos were edited to remove a gene that enables HIV to enter cells.) In addition to the woman who already gave birth, one other woman involved in the experiment is currently pregnant with a gene-edited embryo. Five other couples are not pregnant, the article reports, and one couple dropped out of the experiment.

The article says that He’s gene-editing activities were “clearly prohibited by the state”, but it doesn’t mention which specific laws or regulations the researcher broke.

Read the rest

Bill Gates wants us to fear mosquitoes, not sharks

Bill Gates has a long, complicated and showy relationship with malaria eradication, and in a new letter, he makes a case that mosquitoes are Earth's deadliest animals, outkilling even the murderous h. sap.. Read the rest

He Jiankui, scientist who gene-edited 'Crispr babies', detained in China

He Jiankui, the scientist who claimed to have produced the world’s first gene-edited babies using CRISPR technology, is missing. Reports indicate he has been detained by Chinese authorities. Read the rest

Google sister company is trialing a mosquito eradication plan in Fresno

We live at the confluence of two ages: the first rush of climate change, which is bringing new species and new pathogens to territories they've never been known in; and the nascent age of genetic engineering, which holds out the promise of eliminating these pathogens, and not just in the wealthy territories they've moved into, but throughout the world, including the poor countries where they are deadly scourges. Read the rest

The ethics of wiping out a mosquito species

The announcement from Read the rest

A CRISPR-based hack could eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes

A research team from Imperial College London have published promising results of an experiment in which Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes -- responsible for the spread of malaria -- were genetically modified with a stable, gene-drive-based CRISPR modification that caused them to go extinct in the lab. Read the rest

2017's shittiest technology trends, news blurts, and stupidities

MIT Tech Review's Antonio Regalado rounds up the year's stupidest, worst moments in tech, from the guy who created his own CRISPR-based gene therapy to beef up his muscles and injected it to Donald Trump's Twitter feed to the FCC's Net Neutrality catastrophe. Of course, Juicero rates a mention. Read the rest

Sourdough: a delicious story about nerdism and the flesh, by Robin "Mr Penumbra" Sloan

Robin Sloan's 2012 novel, Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, was as strong a debut as you could ask for, an instant geek classic of bibliophilia, magic and technology; now, with today's release of Sourdough, Sloan returns to the alienated, quirkily funny and brilliant lives of technology workers, in a tale of food, the flesh, novelty-seeking, ancient tradition, and immortal colony-organisms.