Pulse 65: CRISPR as a High-Performance Word Processor

15 May 2018
Giulio Prisco

DNA Gene Editing Like Word Processor

Researchers at the Joint Institute of Metrology and Biology (JIMB) have developed an enhanced CRISPR gene editing system, dubbed MAGESTIC (see below), which could permit precise and efficient gene editing. A JIMB press release compares the advancement to the ability to use a word processor, instead of scissors, to edit text.

“MAGESTIC is like an advancement in the ‘control F’ [Find Text] operation of a word-processing program, with the replace-text command allowing a desired change,” said JIMB scientist Kevin Roy. “This lets us really poke at the cell in a very precise way and see how the change affects cell function.”

In less tech-intensive news, researchers have found that one gram of fish oil a day, weight reduction, and exercise, could help reduce the pain of patients with osteoarthritis. Nutmeg, a spice used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat gastrointestinal illnesses, has been found to help other organs, specifically the liver.

New CRISPR platform for precise and efficient gene editing. Researchers at the Joint Institute of Metrology and Biology (JIMB), a collaboration between Stanford University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have developed an enhanced CRPSPR-based gene editing platform. A research paper published in Nature Biotechnology describes a new CRISPR platform called MAGESTIC (Multiplexed Accurate Genome Editing with Short, Trackable, Integrated Cellular barcodes). The new platform makes CRISPR less like a blunt cutting tool and more like a word processor by enabling an efficient "search and replace" function for genetic material.

High resolution models of microtubule interactions in the brain. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have combined cutting-edge cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) with computational molecular modeling to produce a near atomic-resolution model of the interaction between microtubules - crucial components of eukaryotic cell ultrastructure - and microtubule-associated proteins called tau. The research work, published in Science, sheds light on neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, which correlate with the disruption of these interactions.

Fabricating neurons to study Alzheimer’s and other brain conditions. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have devised what they call a "neuronal cookbook" for turning skin cells into different types of neurons. A study published in Nature describes the research, which opens the door to studying common brain conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, addiction, and Alzheimer's disease under reproducible conditions in a dish.

Fast microfluidic assembly line for drug microparticles. Engineers at University of Pennsylvania have developed a microfluidic system where more than ten thousand microparticle generators run in parallel, making more than 300 billion microparticles for drug packaging and delivery an hour, all on a silicon-and-glass chip that can fit into a shirt pocket. The new microfluidic technology is described in a research paper published in Nature Communications.

AI oncologist finds safety margins for cancer treatment. Researchers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center of UT Austin have developed a new method for automating the patient-specific contouring of high-risk clinical target volumes - which include surrounding tissues as safety margins against cancerous cells that could spread - using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and supercomputers. In a study published in International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, the scientists report that the predicted contours could be implemented clinically, with only minor or no changes.

Advance toward uncovering and fixing genetic roots of obesity. Researchers in Berlin have successfully treated patients whose obesity is caused by a genetic defect. The scientists used a peptide that binds to the melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) in the brain, and this activation triggered the normal satiety signal. The results of this research, published in Nature Medicine, provide insights into the fundamental signaling pathways regulating satiety of the new drug.

Universal Antibody Drug for HIV-1 Prevention and Immunotherapy. Scientists at University of Hong Kong have invented a universal antibody drug that seems effective against HIV/AIDS. The researchers found that the new antibody drug, described in a research paper published in Journal of Clinical Investigation, is universally effective not only against all genetically divergent global HIV-1 strains tested but also promoting the elimination of latently infected cells in a humanized mouse model.

New, efficient techniques for 3D visualization of microscopic structures in the human brain. Scientists at Imperial College London and University of Hong Kong have made advances toward the visualization of human brain tissue at the microscopic level. A study published in Nature Communications describes a new tissue clearing solution, dubbed OPTIClear, which selectively adjusts the optical properties of tissue without damaging or changing their structural components. As an application, the researchers performed 3D morphological analysis on thousands of human neurons in a record time.

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