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Category Archives: Human Genetic Engineering

ERC promotes CRISPR research to better treat infections – News-Medical.net

Chase Beisel heads the "Synthetic Biology of RNA" research group at the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) in Wrzburg, a branch of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and run in collaboration with the Julius-Maximilians-Universitt in Wrzburg. With the Consolidator Grants, the European Research Council (ERC) promotes research by up-and-coming scientists in Europe.

CRISPR is a word on everyone's lips at the moment. Although it sounds somewhat crispy and delicious, it is in fact inedible - it is actually one of the most promising tools of genetic engineering. CRISPR stands for "Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats". These short DNA segments in the genome of bacteria are named after their regular pattern of repeating and mirrored sequences. They act as effective virus defence systems for bacteria. Copies of the CRISPR DNA exist in the form of RNA fragments in the cell. In the event of a viral attack, where a virus injects its DNA into a bacterium, the defence mechanism is triggered: The proteins, which include Cas9, is called to action and compares the sequence of the foreign DNA with that of the CRISPR RNA fragments. If it finds a matching counterpart, Cas9 cuts the foreign virus DNA, thus rendering the intruder harmless. The CRISPR-Cas9 system is therefore also known as genetic scissors and is now used for genome editing. DNA sequences can be specifically cut and modified in the laboratory using custom-designed CRISPR gene scissors, for example for the development of improved crops or medicines, for the manufacture of industrially used microorganisms, and in human cells for treating genetic diseases.

American chemical engineer Chase Beisel dedicated himself to CRISPR research around nine years ago. "We have an incredibly powerful genetic engineering tool at our disposal," says Beisel. "In order to fully and safely utilise its potential in the future, it is important that we better understand the basic biological relationships of CRISPR complexes in bacteria." The bacterial immune system can evidently learn new things and arm itself against other attackers by quickly integrating parts of foreign DNA into its own genome. CRISPR arrays encode the memory of previous infections and enable multiple intruders to be attacked simultaneously. How exactly these advanced CRISPR complexes are created, which criteria are used for selecting new sequences and which key genes of the attacker are thus rendered ineffective are not yet fully understood. This is exactly where Beisel's current research project "CRISPR Combo" aims to start, addressing the unanswered questions. "In addition to researching the biological fundamentals of CRISPR arrays in bacteria, we would also go one step further in the direction of a genetic application of CRISPR arrays," says Beisel. "To do this, we will use designed CRISPR arrays to target multiple genes at once in pathogens, thereby identifying combinations that most drive infections and providing new drug targets."

In 2018, Beisel moved from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh (USA) to the HIRI in Wrzburg, where he has been the head of the "RNA Synthetic Biology" research group for two years now. His twelve-person team consists of postdocs, doctoral candidates, technicians and students. "The funding from the ERC means I can confidently add four members to the team - that is really fantastic," says Beisel. "The ERC Grant is an important milestone for me personally. Making the leap to Germany to join the HIRI was absolutely the right decision, and I am delighted about this funding. It enables me to dedicate my research to a topic that fascinates me and at the same time offers significant benefits for society as a whole."

Posted in: Medical Science News | Medical Research News | Disease/Infection News

Tags: Bacteria, Cas9, Cell, CRISPR, DNA, Gene, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Engineering, Genome, Genome Editing, Hospital, Immune System, Laboratory, Palindromic Repeats, Research, Research Project, RNA, Virus

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$125 million for Inscripta may usher in the next wave of genetic engineering – TechCrunch

In these waning days of the second decade of the twenty-first century, technologists and investors are beginning to lay the foundations for new, truly transformational technologies that have the potential to reshape entire industries and rewrite the rules of human understanding.

It may sound lofty, but new achievements from businesses and research institutions in areas like machine learning, quantum computing and genetic engineering mean that the futures imagined in science fiction are simply becoming science.

And among the technologies that could potentially have the biggest effect on the way we live, nothing looms larger than genetic engineering.

Investors and entrepreneurs are deploying hundreds of millions of dollars to create the tools that researchers, scientists and industry will use to re-engineer the building blocks of life to perform different functions in agriculture, manufacturing and medicine.

One of these companies, 10X Genomics, which gives users hardware and software to determine the functionality of different genetic code, has already proven how lucrative this early market can be. The company, which had its initial public offering earlier this year, is now worth $6 billion.

Another, the still-private company Inscripta, is helmed by a former 10X Genomics executive. The Boulder, Colo.-based startup is commercializing a machine that can let researchers design and manufacture small quantities of new organisms. If 10X Genomics is giving scientists and businesses a better way to read and understand the genome, then Inscripta is giving those same users a new way to write their own genetic code and make their own organisms.

Its a technology that investors are falling over themselves to finance. The company, which closed on $105 million in financing earlier in the year (through several tranches, which began in late 2018), has just raised another $125 million on the heels of launching its first commercial product. Investors in the round include new and previous investors like Paladin Capital Group, JS Capital Management, Oak HC/FT and Venrock.

Biology has unlimited potential to positively change this world, says Kevin Ness, the chief executive of Inscripta . Its one of the most important new technology forces that will be a major player in the global economy.

Ness sees Inscripta as breaking down one of the biggest barriers to the commercialization of genetic engineering, which is access to the technology.

While genome centers and biology foundries can manufacture massive quantities of new biological material for industrial uses, its too costly and centralized for most researchers. We can put the biofoundry capabilities into a box that can be pushed to a global researcher, says Ness.

Earlier this year, the company announced that it was taking orders for its first bio-manufacturing product; the new capital is designed to pay for expanding its manufacturing capabilities.

That wasnt the only barrier that Inscripta felt that it needed to break down. The company also developed a proprietary biochemistry for gene editing, hoping to avoid having to pay fees to one of the two laboratories that were engaged in a pitched legal battle over who owned the CRISPR technology (the Broad Institute and the University of California both had claims to the technology).

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Another way to edit the genome – Bangalore Mirror

By Santanu Chakraborty

The problem extends beyond that of accuracy of snipping out bits of DNA and replacing them with other sequences

Editing of human genomes is commonplace in laboratories around the world. What I mean by that is scientists routinely tinker with the genomes of individual cells derived from humans and being grown in a dish. More generally, various mammals typically mice are used as model systems to develop genetic technologies of the future. It is in these systems small animals and cells growing in dishes that the technologies of the future are first developed. The aim is two fold, one is to understand the mechanisms of life well and the other is to use them for human benefit. So it is hardly a surprise that the editing of entire human genomes would happen sooner or later, even if it should violate ethical norms of the day. One such work was revealed recently when scientists in China led by He Jiankui used a newly developed gene editing tool, commonly known as CRISPR, to create babies meant to be resistant to the HIV virus. This proved extremely controversial setting off a debate, to put it politely, that continues to rage.

There is a de-facto embargo on editing the genomes on embryos. Why should that be a problem and editing single cells in the laboratory not? To understand that and put some more recent work, which I will refer to later, into context let us consider the following. How would you go about curing a genetic disease if you had the ability to alter the genome of a single cell? Note that the genome of a human cell is contained in a few massive threadlike molecules made up of only four component molecules whose combined length when strung together is approximately four billion molecules long. This exists inside the nucleus, a balloon like compartment inside the cell. Now all this happens on a tiny scale as each cell is only a few microns in diameter with one micron being only a millionth of a meter. Life has evolved molecular machines to work at this scale selecting its components and ways of putting them together over millions of years.

Experiments of mice have yielded extremely powerful proofs of concept which continues to drive the development of such technologies. A recent paper by Peter et al. (Nature Communications, 2019, 10:4112) used CRISPR to alter the genome of mice to recover lost neuronal connectivity. A certain gene (something called C11orf46 but we will call it Gene 1 for short) is implicated in the loss of neuronal fibers that connect one half of the brain to the other.

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The Final Moments of the 2010’s – Pinnacle

Not only is it the end of a year this month, but its also the end of a decade. After ten long years, we can say goodbye to the 2010s and hello to the 2020s.

Along with looking at data pulled by other companies on the top movies, songs, artists, and more of the last ten years, I asked people what their opinions were on the last ten years. I was surprised at their responses.

Majority of the respondents were on the younger side and female. 89.47% of voters were female, leaving the remaining 10.53% as male. (And yes, I did allow people to not answer their gender, but nobody clicked that.) 5.26% of voters are 65 or older, 52.63% are 18-24, and the remaining 42.11% are under 18 years old. All responders were left anonymous.

I askedrespondentsthe following questions:

-How old are you now?

-How old were you at the beginning of the decade?

-What is your preferred gender?

-What was your favorite song from 2010-2019?

-What was your favorite movie from 2010-2019?

-What was your favorite memory from 2010-2019?

-What big accomplishment happened between 2010-2019 for you?

-What was your favorite meme from the decade?

-What was your favorite show from 2010-2019?

-What is your favorite thing that has come out in the last decade (food, drink, toy, clothing item, brand, etc.)

And the answers ranged from cute, to sad, to funny, to serious. But as people answered, it made me realize how many things did happen in the last decade. Like ten years ago we didnt have Alexa, Google Homes, tablets, Curiosity (the space vehicle on Mars), Augmented Reality, human like robots, genetic engineering, hoverboards, smart watches, drone delivery, Spotify, and as one responder from the survey said, Noodles Zoodles. Could you imagine a world where you couldnt get your Top Artists of the Year data? Yeah, me neither.

Album covers including newer and older artists.

Want to take a wild guess at the top songs over the last decade? Well here it is:

5) Girls Like You by Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B

4) Closer by The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey

3) Shape of You by Ed Sheeran

2) Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO featuring Lauren Bennett andGoonRock

And the number one song of the decade is none other than Uptown Funk by MarkRonsonfeaturing Bruno Mars.

You can find the other 95 hits over the last ten years athttps://www.billboard.com/charts/decade-end/hot-100

However only one survey respondent said their favorite song was a part of the top five. Other people commented that their favorites included Lights Up by Harry Styles, 22 by Taylor Swift, Juice by Lizzo, Need You Now by Lady Antebellum, Flicker by Niall Horan, Hurts Like Heaven by Coldplay, and more.

Now moving on to TV shows and movies of the last decade. Everyone knows how Marvel has taken over Hollywood with 23 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU in the last decade. They also beat out Avatar this year with Avengers: End Game. But those movies werent the only ones people enjoyed (although they were personally my favorites). People also enjoyed Baby Driver, The Greatest Showman, Tangled, IT Chapter One and Two, Into theSpiderverse, Frozen and Frozen 2, Shutter Island, and Love, Simon.

I bet you forgot that the last three Twilight movies, the last two Harry Potter movies, and all the Hunger Games movies came out in the last ten years. In all honesty, it feels like it was a lot longer than that.

Image via Charles on UnsplashJust a glance at what you can view on Netflix a streaming platform that has grown in the last decade.

Survey respondents also gave their favorite TV shows over the last year and they really pushed to have some shows count as part of the last decade. Especially the numerous amounts of people who put Hannah Montana which started in 2006 and ended in 2011, but they argued it technically was airing in this decade. So, well let it slide. People also put down The Vampire Diaries, The 100, The Office, Supernatural, Stranger Things, The Goldbergs, American Horror Story, Oak Island, and Criminal Minds.

And although lots of things have happened in the last decade, like people graduating, people getting married, people came out, people started working, and people retired, there was one thing nobody could escape. And those were the memes.

I asked people to submit their favorite memes and well Im pleased to say the least. (Although side note there was someone whosaid and I quote None. I think memes are dumb ) However those memes included: The Area 51 Raid, Im Fine (Dog on Fire), You Almost Made Me Drop My Croissant, The Lady Screaming at the Cat, Gabe the Dog, Grumpy Cat, Blinking White Guy, and the Good vs Bad Kermit. It was a beautiful decade for memes. Vine was even a thing from 2013-2017 before it shut down and TikTok took over.

If youre curious about some of the top songs, tv shows, movies, or anything else that has happened in the last decade, you can check out the Billboard 100 (https://www.billboard.com/charts/decade-end/hot-100), IMDb (https://www.imdb.com/list/ls026040906/), or Buzzfeed has some funny articles and quizzes where you can figure out how much you remember from the last decade (https://www.buzzfeed.com/)

Hopefully this last decade was memorable and you had a great 2019! Heres to a new decade and a new year! 2020 here we come.

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The Microbiology of Desire: A Microbe’s View of the World – SynBioBeta

In his 2001 book, The Botany of Desire: A Plants-Eye View of the World, author Michael Pollan challenges the conventional anthropocentric view of the world and encourages his readers to look at life from a plants perspective. Are humans or plants really calling the shots? Perhaps were not controlling plants for our survival as much as theyre controlling us for theirs. Pollan highlights how several plants appeal to basic human desires, and throughout history we have been selectively breeding different crops for certain traits and spreading them around the world seemingly for our benefit. These crops include apples (for sweetness), tulips (for beauty), marijuana (for intoxication) and many more.

Similarly, microbes have been co-evolving with humans, forming a symbiotic relationship over millions of years. In fact, each human is colonized by trillions of microbes. The food we eat feeds beneficial microbes that live in our guts, and in return they outcompete pathogenic microbes and produce metabolites that modulate our immune systems. Additionally, microbes have been aiding humans in one of the oldest methods of food processing fermentation whereby microbes transform food from one form into another, four thousands of years. In the late 20th century, we began engineering microbes to produce drugs, such as insulin, and other ingredients via industrial fermentation a process akin to brewing beer. Since then, we have been harnessing this technology for numerous applications across the agriculture, energy, food, and healthcare industries.

Today, were accelerating our joint venture with these nifty little creatures. Were engineering and evolving them, feeding and growing them, and protecting and spreading them all over the world. The question is, are we doing all this work for our benefit or for theirs? Perhaps its not the humans or plants, but rather the microbes calling the shots.

Source: Global Engage.

As the cost of technologies such as genome sequencing and cloud computing have been exponentially decreasing over the last several years, scientists have been increasing their research on microbes, leading to several discoveries around the functions of microbes and their interaction with other organisms. Industry is harnessing this research for a variety of commercial applications, such as using microbes as mini factories to produce animal-free proteins, healthy crops, and medicines. As part of this movement, three startups, enEvolv (Cultivian portfolio company), Ginkgo Bioworks, and Zymergen, have collectively raised over $1.5 billion in venture capital to engineer and evolve microbes for several of these applications. Leveraging tools such as next-generation DNA sequencing and machine learning, these innovators are vastly increasing the volume and diversity of useful microbes and, compared to prior technologies, significantly reducing the time and cost required to commercialize bio-based products for our benefit.

In his 2011 article, Software is Eating the World, technology venture capitalist Marc Andreessen demonstrates how software companies have been taking over some of the worlds largest industries. Today, it seems like microbes are eating the world (sometimes literally) as microbial fermentation is becoming the go-to manufacturing process for proteins, medicines and other products.

To design microbes for these processes, we utilize in silico modeling and computer code (0s and 1s) to modify the genetic code (As, Cs, Ts, and Gs) of microbes to engineer certain strains that nourish us and, to some extent, other strains to produce the sugars that nourish them. According to some estimates, the probiotics (live microbes that nourish us) and prebiotics (sugars that nourish them) markets are forecasted to reach $77 billion and $7 billion, respectively, by 2024. In anticipation of rising demand, venture capital investment in the microbiome space has exploded in recent years.

Several startups are leveraging microbes and their derivative products for commercial applications. These use cases help demonstrate the symbiosis that exists between humans and microbes. We engineer and evolve microbes, and then we feed and grow them; in return they generate products that benefit us. Our relationship with microbes has also unlocked new value propositions and reduced our reliance on the natural world, such as the need to harvest animals for food, drugs and other products. Geltor (Cultivian portfolio company) for example, is an emerging leader in the field of producing animal-free proteins via fermentation. The companys initial focus is collagen protein, which historically could only be extracted from animal skin, bone, and connective tissue. Geltor recently announced a major partnership with GELITA to launch the worlds first animal-free collagen protein in 2020.

Bacterial microbiome mapping, bioartistic experiment. Credit: Franois-Joseph Lapointe, Universit de Montral. CC BY

Like the variety of plants Pollan highlights in his 2001 book, humans have been protecting and spreading microbes all over the world ostensibly to suit our needs. Recently, consumer preferences for the reduction or elimination of antibiotics and pesticides in the food supply chain are beginning to transform agriculture. As a result, increasing demand for and adoption of bio-based products are protecting the beneficial microbes in our crops, in our livestock and, consequently, in our guts. In fact, companies like Eligo Bioscience, Folium Science and General Probiotics are engineering microbes that selectively destroy pathogenic microbes while keeping beneficial microbes intact as an alternative to broad spectrum antibiotics that wipe out both beneficial and pathogenic microbes kind of like a well keep you alive if you do the same for us quid pro quo.

Additionally, we have been spreading beneficial microbes around the world. As certain microbes demonstrate their usefulness to humans in developed countries, Gates Foundation is investing in and partnering with venture-backed startups, such as AgBiome (for crop health) and Evolve BioSystems (for infant nutrition), to deploy these same microbial products in developing countries.

These are just a few examples of our ability to leverage microbes apparently for our advantage. Today we are domesticating microbes just like we have domesticated plants in the past. Like apples, tulips and marijuana, humans are harnessing the genetic potential of microbes and art of fermentation to produce chocolate (for sweetness), collagen (for beauty), and wine (for intoxication). Although they are far from a panacea, investing in microbial-related technologies holds tremendous promise for humans, plants and the rest of the natural world.

As I wrap up this article, I begin to wonder if my purpose was to promote investments in this space or if I was subconsciously hired by these nifty little creatures for their PR campaign? Now that I think about it, I think theyre the ones calling the shots!

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Modifying DNA ‘will get humans on Mars’ 70 years after monkey in space – Daily Star

On the anniversary of an ill-fated monkey's journey into space, there's a growing belief that genetic engineering could hold the key to exploring the universe.

Seventy years ago today, a monkey named Albert IV was strapped into a small spacecraft, hooked up to monitors and propelled into orbit.

The US launched a series of V-2 rockets carrying monkey astronauts throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s as a precursor to the space race.

Albert II became the first monkey in space on June 14 1949, a year after the original Albert suffocated before his rocket could make it past the Karman line - the 100km height above Earth marking the beginning of space.

Albert II survived his flight, which reached a height of 134km, but died on impact after his parachute failed.

He was followed by Albert III, who made it just 10km up before his rocket exploded.

On December 12, 1949, Albert IV was launched from New Mexico and successfully made it into space. He stayed safe and well throughout the flight until it was time to land, when yet another parachute failure killed him on impact.

Albert IV was the last of the V-2 monkeys, but the experiments continued in other forms.

Eventually, advances in space technology meant that the US and the Soviet Union were able to send animals into space and bring them back alive.

But the enormous stress of space travel had a huge impact on them, with many suffering heart attacks brought on by dehydration.

The weightlessness also affected their bodily functions: when the European Space Agency sent crickets into space for 16 days in 1998, the insects failed to develop the organs needed for balance that they would on Earth.

Human astronauts suffer a huge range of side-effects as well, from muscle atrophy to congestion to eyesight problems.

The rise of the animal rights movement means that even as space agencies look to Mars as the next destination to conquer, they may refrain from testing the technology on animals due to public pressure.

But Elon Musk may have found a way around it. Last week SpaceX sent a 'crew' of genetically modified mice and worms into space.

The rocket docked at the International Space Station where its precious cargo will be used in a variety of experiments investigating how to improve space travel.

Of the 40 mice onboard the 'Dragon' capsule, eight have been genetically engineered to have twice the muscle mass of a normal mouse. They're known as 'mighty mice', and they'll be able to better cope with the muscle-shrinking and bone density-decreasing effects of space.

Scientists hope these results will help them to understand how to limit muscle and bone loss in humans while they're in space.

SpaceX intends to send humans to Mars in 2024, with the eventual goal of colonising the red planet into a "self-sustaining civilisation".

It would take between six and eight months for a spacecraft to travel from Earth to Mars. That's a long exposure to space radiation, which has been proven to have devastating effects on humans including an increased risk of cancer.

But if scientists were able to strengthen our cells to better withstand the radiation, astronauts could stay healthier in space for longer.

US geneticist Chris Mason recently spoke about the possibility of changing human DNA to allow us to explore the universe further than we are currently able to.

One potential method would involve splicing human DNA with that of tardigrades - tiny micro-animals capable of surviving extreme conditions including direct exposure to deep space.

While genetic engineering is controversial, Mr Mason says in the future it may be more unethical not to enhance our DNA.

"In terms of a question of liberty, you're engineering it [a future human] to have lots more opportunities, again assuming we haven't taken away opportunities," he told Space.com.

"If we learned that, in some way, when we decided to try and prove the ability of humans to live beyond Earth, and we take away their ability to live on Earth, I think that would be unjust."

In his words: "It's not if we evolve, it's when we evolve."

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