The CRISPR Issue: CRISPR Detects SARS-CoV-2, Treats Muscular Dystrophy in Mice & Patent Battle Gets Twisted (#8)

Plus: Transplanted stem cells produce the 'perfect' sperm, data encryption secures genetic material, and misinformation spreads on Twitter.

🧬Featured Research

CRISPR-Based Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Under One Hour (Open Access)

A group of scientists, led by the Zhang, Gootenberg and Abudayyeh labs at MIT and Harvard, have reported a rapid method to detect SARS-CoV-2 using their Cas12-based SHERLOCK system. The test returns results in less than an hour and has a sensitivity similar to reverse-transcription–quantitative polymerase-chain-reaction (RT-qPCR) assays, the predominant method currently used to diagnose patients with COVID-19. The correspondence was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

CRISPR Treats a Form of Molecular Dystrophy in Mice

Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) is an inherited form of muscular dystrophy, characterized by muscle wasting, weakness, clouding of the eyes, and an abnormal heartbeat. The disease is caused by “CTG microsatellite repeat expansions” in a specific gene, called DMPK (myotonic dystrophy protein kinase). Using a mouse model for DM1, a new study in Nature Biomedical Engineering injected viruses packaged with an RNA-targeting version of Cas9 to “shut down” the defective repeats, effectively reversing the symptoms of DM1 in these animals. Read the UCSD press release.

Transplanted Stem Cells Produce the Perfect Sperm (Open Access)

Farmers have been refining their breeding programs for generations, searching for the “optimal” pig, goat, or cow. To that end, artificial insemination seems to be the perfect solution: collect sperm from males with preferred traits, and introduce that sperm into the females. A new study in PNAS has shown that stem cells, transplanted into mice, pigs, goats, and cattle, can produce sperm from a genetically-preferred donor. In other words, sterile males can now produce sperm with DNA from “super sires”. For deeper coverage on this study, read the article in The Scientist.

Software Helps Design Encrypted DNA

When researchers exchange DNA—or an organism escapes from its flask—how can we figure out where the DNA came from? DNA is cheap to manufacture, so there is a pressing need to develop encryption systems for genetic materials that can link a sequence to its creator, without being counterfeited. A new study, published in ACS Synthetic Biology, reports software that can create encrypted digital signatures to incorporate into a DNA plasmid. Those “signed” plasmids “can then be ordered from a DNA synthesis company or assembled from individual DNA fragments.”

A Genetic Circuit Reduces Burden in Mammalian Cells (Open Access)

Cells have limited resources. At any given moment, thousands of processes—from DNA replication to protein production and cellular movement—are competing for those resources. When synthetic biologists engineer a cell, typically by adding DNA, those resources dwindle even more. A new study in Nature Communications partly addresses this issue in mammalian cells, demonstrating that a genetic circuit, called an “incoherent feedforward loop”, or iFFL, can be used to mitigate burden and “rescue the expression level of genes of interest despite changes in available cellular resources due to the loading effects of transgene constructs”. Read the “behind-the-paper” article by Mustafa Khammash.


🧫 Rapid-Fire Highlights

More research & reviews worth your time


📰 #SynBio in the News


🐦Science Threads on Twitter

The Twitter highlight this week features a preprint from the Doudna & Greenleaf labs. In this work, led by Evan Boyle, the authors performed “62,444 quantitative binding and cleavage assays on 35,047 on- and off-target DNA sequences across 90 Cas9 ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) loaded with distinct guide RNAs”. Wow! Check out the Twitter thread. 👇


Thanks for reading This Week in Synthetic Biology, part of Bioeconomy.XYZ. As always, I welcome your feedback via direct Twitter message or comment. If you enjoy this newsletter, please share it with a friend.

A version of these newsletters is posted on bioeconomy.xyz and my website, hiniko.io. Reach me with tips and feedback via Twitter direct message at @NikoMcCarty.