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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF GENOME ENGINEERING

 

Nearly half a century ago, not long after Watson and Crick identified the double helix DNA and less than a decade since Theodore Maiman (here holding his first device, with the NOVA laser for fusion in the background, a project I worked on at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)  was credited with inventing the laser, I built a tunable laser before one could be purchased, constructed a microbioreactor, and affected the DNA bond of E. coli in the ultraviolet through the use of exogenous photosensitizers, the subject of my PhD dissertation.

Since then I have closely tracked developments in this micro-biochemical area.  The cover story of the 4 July 2016 issue of TIME magazine well summarizes CRISPR-Cas9, a genetic engineering technology:
  • This four-year-old discovery could well determine the future of:
    • disease treatment
    • what we eat
    • restoration of extinct species
    • how electricity will be generated 
    • and how we power our vehicles
  • The technique enables researchers to edit parts of the genome by cutting out, replacing and adding parts to the DNA sequence.
  • It is quicker, cheaper and more accurate than previous editing techniques.
  • The process effectively induces mutation of the DNA.
  • In many ways bacteria beat us to this procedure, for they have the ability to snip out parts of virus DNA and retain this information to recognize and defend itself from the next attack.
Among the future applications include (by the way, Dolly would have been 20 years old yesterday, except she passed away in 2003):
  • Curing cancer, hepatitis and high cholesterol.
  • Cloning animals.
  • Cloning humans, but current ethical standards pretty much preclude this option.  Some day, though...
  • Producing various bio-products, such as biofuels, polymers, adhesives and fragrances.
  • Wiping out female mosquitos causing malaria and Zika.  For your information, if you've wondered what do males consume, they suck on sources of nectar.

Can you get a patent in this field?  Yes.  On 15 April 2014 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded the first patent to edit eukaryotic genomes.  Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute and MIT holds this platform patent for a wide array of applications.  Jennifer Doudna of the University California at Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the University of Vienna actually filed their patent for something similar seven months earlier, but best as I can determine, Zhang had a better patent attorney.


When will CRISPR-Cas9 be commercialized?  Well, you can say it has, for Taconic Biosciences now markets specialized rodent models to researchers on special license from Zhang.  Duodna has formed Caribou Biosciences, which  received a CRISPR patent earlier this year.  Horizon Discovery now licenses Zhang's patent, but also George Church's (Harvard) application through ERC Genomics, which is Charpentier's company.  All  still very uncertain and confusing, but nevertheless moving at warp speed.

In the Orient:
  • South Korea  is also surging with ToolGen, a genome-editing company and is utilizing the International Patent Cooperation Treaty.  They are modifying the guide RNA for plant-breeding.
  • China is pushing forward into customized animals and has genetically modified human embryos, which allows you to do this up to a life of two weeks.  Here is a micro pig.
  • Singapore is dabbling, and has launched ClonGenex for recombinant Cas9 protein experiments and related ventures.
  • Japan has developed a photoactivatable Cas9 nuclease to control CRISPR-based gene editing.
The U.S. Congress banned human gene editing, but Bill Gates and his partners have sunk $120 million into a Cambridge, Massachusetts company, Editas Medicine.  Read this Forbes article.  According to Francis Collins (left), Director of the National Institutes of Health:

NIH will continue to support a wide range of innovations in biomedical research, but will do so in a fashion that reflects well-established scientific and ethical principles.

Collins is known as that scientist who maybe too publicly believes in God.



Probably not from any of the above countries.  This babe will come from a non-Christian society.  Japan is hardly Christian, but there are certain ethical values at play.  And, if you really need to know, CRISPR is the acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats.

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Hurricane Blas is now at 125 MPH and still heading for Hawaii:


However, computer models show Blas weakening before getting close to the 50th State.

Super Typhoon Nepartak is a whole different story.  Now at 175 MPH, the eye seems headed right through the middle of Taiwan, but somewhat south of Taipei:


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