AS WEEDS GO, Arabidopsis thaliana is a rather charming specimen. On a spring day, you might see it sprouting from the cracks of a parking lot, unleashing a small riot of white flowers that give it the common name “mouse ear cress.” But its rotund leaves often bear unwelcome passengers: among them, a bacteria called Pseudomonas syringae. It sits there looking for a way into the plant, usually the stomata through which the leaf takes in water and carbon dioxide, or through a wound. That’s when things get interesting.
When you think of gene editing technologies like CRISPR, you might imagine editing genes that relate to height, eye color, or our risk of getting certain diseases. But in truth, our DNA and RNA are full of countless proteins whose jobs have tiny yet important effects on our health. Some, for example, are heavily involved in the cell cycle, which regulates how all cells grow and divide—including cancer cells. A group of researchers out of the University of Rochester Medical Center recently used the CRISPR gene editing technique to try to eliminate one of the key proteins that allow cancer cells to proliferate out of control. While it’s just a first-of-its-kind study, the researchers think that in the future, it could be incorporated into a therapy to treat the disease.
A team of scientists have snipped away HIV DNA from the genome of live mice using a CRISPR system, and the rodents lived to (kinda) tell the tale. It’s still much too early to call the method a possible cure, but the fact that it worked on a living animal opens up a lot of possibilities. Will it work on other diseases, like cancer? Maybe, but that’s something scientists have to look into. These researchers headed by neurovirologist Kamel Khalili have been focusing on the use of the gene-editing technique to eliminate HIV for years. They successfully excised HIV DNA in live mice last year, but this round is a lot more thorough.
You’re a complex organism. You socialize with family and friends, you solve puzzles and make choices. Humans may be some of the most cerebral animals on the planet, but we know we’re not alone in having this sort of behavioral complexity. Crows use tools. Primates create incredible social structures. Whales congregate.
DO YOU REMEMBER President-elect Trump holding forth on the campaign trail about “China beating us at our own game”? Well, it’s true, as long as the game in question is editing human DNA using Crispr/Cas9. China is now using Crispr-edited cells in living, breathing human beings.
Researchers from Temple University have used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool to clear out the entire HIV-1 genome from a patient’s infected immune cells. It’s a remarkable achievement that could have profound implications for the treatment of AIDS and other retroviruses.