The pandemic accelerated the need for such tests. This summer, the FDA cleared two tests based on Crispr, both to detect SARS-CoV-2. Boston-based Sherlock Biosciences received the green light for its test in May, and Bay Area Mammoth Biosciences followed in August. It was the first time that the FDA allowed the use of a diagnostic tool based on Crispr in patients. The tests have yet to be analyzed in a lab, but they are faster than the standard method to detect SARS-CoV-2, called PCR, which typically takes four to eight hours to work. The new tests return the results in about an hour. Both companies are currently working on versions of the test that can be performed at home.
“Before the pandemic, there was a lot of general enthusiasm about the potential of next-generation diagnostics to decentralize the testing industry, but there was still a lot of inertia,” said Trevor Martin, CEO of Mammoth Bioscience, at WIRED this summer. The coronavirus, he says, has shocked the industry. “Things that would have taken years are now things that have to be done in months.”
4. Mitochondria join the genome editing party
Crispr can make precise cuts to the genomes of virtually every organism on the planet. But mitochondria – energy-producing nanofactories of cells – have their own DNA separated from the rest of the genome. Until recently, this DNA targeting tool failed to alter the genetic code coiled inside.
And unlike chromosomes, which you inherit from both parents, mitochondrial DNA only comes from your maternal side. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA can cripple the cell’s ability to generate energy and lead to debilitants, often fatal conditions affecting approximately one in 6,500 people worldwide. So far, scientists have tried to prevent mitochondrial disease by replacing the mitochondria in one egg with another, a commonly known procedure. as three-person IVF, who is currently banned in the United States.
But this summer, scientists from Seattle and Boston published a study showing that they had discovered a way to harness a strange enzyme found in biofilm-forming bacteria to make precise changes to mitochondrial DNA. The work was led by David Liu, whose Evolution Hack Lab at the Broad Institute and Harvard University produced a series of revolutionary DNA modification tools during the last years. The new system has yet to be tested in humans and clinical trials are still far away, but the discovery opens up another promising avenue for the treatment of mitochondrial diseases.
5. Nobel victory for Crispr
Last but not least, in October, the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for editing the Crispr genome. It was both an amazing choice (as a DNA alteration tool, Crispr has only been around for 8 years) and a much anticipated choice. Crispr has completely revolutionized biological research since his arrival in 2012; Since then, scientists have published more than 300,000 studies using the tool to manipulate the genomes of organisms in all realms, including mosquitoes, tomatoes, King Charles Spaniels, and even humans. It’s pretty cheap, quick, and easy to use for just about anyone. Today, scientists can order custom-made Crispr components with one click.
The victory also broke barriers of another kind. Doudna and Charpentier are the first women to jointly win a Nobel Prize in Science. And there had been a lot of speculation to whom the prize would actually go, as the credit for Crispr’s founding story is still a hot topic of debate (and litigation). “Many women think that no matter what they do, their work will never be recognized as it would be if they were a man,” said Doudna by learning the news. “And I think [this prize] refutes this. He clearly states that women can do science, that women can do chemistry, and great science is recognized and honored. In other words, she continued, “Women rock. We couldn’t agree more.
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