Your Missing Links Are Here (29 January 2021)

Some of the best stuff we picked up around the internet

By: Karen O'Hanlon Cohrt - Jan. 29, 2021

Top picks


  • Researchers in China have developed a CRISPR-Cas–powered catalytic nucleic acid circuit called CRISPR-Cas–only amplification network (CONAN) for isothermally amplified detection of genomic DNA. CONAN integrates the stringent target recognition, helicase activity, and trans-cleavage activity of Cas12a to achieve one-enzyme, one-step, real-time detection of genomic DNA with attomolar sensitivity. The findings were published in Science Advances this week.
  • Plant researchers in China and the US together develop SpRY, an engineered PAM-less Cas9 variant that makes it possible for the first time to target nearly any genomic sequence in plants. Check our our related interview with PAM expert Ben Kleinstiver from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, whose research has led to similar advances for human genome editing.
  • Researchers at Johns Hopkins University uncover self-protection function for long-form tracrRNA, a single guide RNA expressed by bacterial CRISPR systems. The tracrRNA complexes Cas9 but it doesn’t need to bind to crRNA, and it doesn’t make any DNA cuts. Instead, it merely lingers in place and directs Cas9 to transcriptionally repress its own promoter. The findings create opportunities to design improved CRISPR-Cas9 tools with gene-regulating activity. Read the original research article in Cell here.
  • The crystal structure of Cas12g, a type V–G CRISPR–Cas effector, has been solved by researchers at Purdue University, US. Cas12g is an RNA-guided ribonuclease that targets single-stranded RNA substrates, and the work has captured it both without and in complex with a target. Read the findings in Nature Chemical Biology here.


  • Biotech company Mammoth Biosciences announces co-marketing agreement with Agilent Technologies to develop an automated and scaled CRISPR-based SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic solution comprising Agilent’s Bravo automation workstation and Mammoth’s DETECTR BOOSTTM SARS-CoV-2 assay. This deal is expected to secure a sample-to-answer workflow that can perform more than 4,000 COVID-19 tests per day.

Vision and opinion

  • CRISPR crops ‘aren’t GMOs,’ France says, challenging EU’s strict gene-editing regulations. The country’s Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie argued in an interview earlier this month that new breeding techniques such as gene-editing technology allows much quicker development of a variety that could have emerged naturally at some point, and that this is a very good thing. More coverage of this story here.
  • Premature Freak-Outs about Techno-Enhancement. An opinion piece by science journalist John Horgan that discusses how people concerned about the possible social and ethical downsides of new technologies such as gene editing, genetic engineering, brain implants and artificial intelligence often exaggerate the feasibility of the technologies. A problem the author captures as ‘wishful worries’. Read the piece here.

Conferences and events

  • The STL Genome Editing 2021 conference was held virtually last week. Speakers from research and industry from all over the US covered broad aspects of CRISPR and related gene-editing methologies. You can catch a recording of the presentations here.

Webinars and podcasts

  • Kevin Davies, executive editor of the CRISPR Journal and author of book ‘Editing Humanity: The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing’ joins The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast this week to talk about the strange boom in genome-editing stocks and the future of this revolutionary technology. Listen to the postcast here. In case you missed it, you can also read our recent interview with Kevin Davies right here.


  • CRISPR technologies and the search for the PAM-free nuclease. This review published in Nature Communications discusses ongoing efforts toward realising PAM-free nucleases as well as potential consequences of fully eliminating PAM recognition. The authors propose an alternative nuclease repertoire covering all possible PAM sequences.

Heh, huh wow

  • Apparently, no one likes gluten-free bread. A US-based startup called Ukko plans to solve that problem for the millions of people who cannot tolerate gluten by using artificial intelligence to find out which proteins cause unwanted immune resnposes and using CRISPR to disrupt them. The company is also working on a line of therapeutics to help people overcome food sensitivities such as peanut allergies. Ukko recently raised $40 million to develop its pipeline.


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