Since its invention, CRISPR has let scientists introduce DNA changes at specific locations in a genome. Often these precise changes are made one at a time.
Perhaps not for much longer. A team at Harvard University says it has used the technique to make 13,200 genetic alterations to a single cell, a record for the gene-editing technology.
The group, led by gene technologist George Church, wants to rewrite genomes at a far larger scale than has currently been possible, something it says could ultimately lead to the “radical redesign” of species—even humans.
To set the new gene-editing record, team members Oscar Castanon and Cory Smith aimed CRISPR at a type of DNA sequence called a LINE-1, a mysterious repetitive element found littered across the human genome. These genetic elements, which are able to copy themselves, are estimated to account for about 17% of our genome.
According to their paper, posted in March to the preprint website BioRxiv, the team was able to make over 13,000 changes at once in some cells without destroying them.
“They found a way to do the experiment without causing gross genome-wide instability,” Faulkner says.
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