From the post:
It didn’t take Zhang or other scientists long to realize that, if nature could turn these molecules into the genetic equivalent of a global positioning system, so could we. Researchers soon learned how to create synthetic versions of the RNA guides and program them to deliver their cargo to virtually any cell. Once the enzyme locks onto the matching DNA sequence, it can cut and paste nucleotides with the precision we have come to expect from the search-and-replace function of a word processor. “This was a finding of mind-boggling importance,” Zhang told me. “And it set off a cascade of experiments that have transformed genetic research.”
With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us. Working mostly with mice, researchers have already deployed the tool to correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and the fundamental defect associated with cystic fibrosis. One group has replaced a mutation that causes cataracts; another has destroyed receptors that H.I.V. uses to infiltrate our immune system.
The potential impact of CRISPR on the biosphere is equally profound. Last year, by deleting all three copies of a single wheat gene, a team led by the Chinese geneticist Gao Caixia created a strain that is fully resistant to powdery mildew, one of the world’s most pervasive blights. In September, Japanese scientists used the technique to prolong the life of tomatoes by turning off genes that control how quickly they ripen. Agricultural researchers hope that such an approach to enhancing crops will prove far less controversial than using genetically modified organisms, a process that requires technicians to introduce foreign DNA into the genes of many of the foods we eat.
The technology has also made it possible to study complicated illnesses in an entirely new way. A few well-known disorders, such as Huntington’s disease and sickle-cell anemia, are caused by defects in a single gene. But most devastating illnesses, among them diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, are almost always the result of a constantly shifting dynamic that can include hundreds of genes. The best way to understand those connections has been to test them in animal models, a process of trial and error that can take years. CRISPR promises to make that process easier, more accurate, and exponentially faster.
Deeply compelling read on the stellar career of Feng Zhang and his use of “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” (CRISPR) for genetic engineering.
If you are up for the technical side, try PubMed on CRISPR at 2,306 “hits” as of today.
If not, continue with Michael’s article. You will get enough background to realize this is a very profound moment in the development of genetic engineering.
A profound moment that can be made all the more valuable by linking its results to the results (not articles or summaries of articles) of prior research.
Proposals for repackaging data in some yet-to-be-invented format are a non-starter from my perspective. That is more akin to the EU science/WPA projects than a realistic prospect for value-add.
Let’s start with the assumption that when held in electronic format, data has its native format as a given. Nothing we can change about that part of the problem of access.
Whether labbooks, databases, triple stores, etc.
That one assumption reduces worries about corrupting the original data and introduces a sense of “tinkering” with existing data interfaces. (Watch for a post tomorrow on the importance of “tinkering.”)
Hmmm, nodes anyone?
PS: I am not overly concerned about genetic “engineering.” My money is riding on chaos in genetics and environmental factors.