Just half a decade after CRISPR’s discovery, DARPA initiated the Safe Genes program: a collaboration between seven of the world’s leading gene editing experts to find multiple antidotes for CRISPR and better its editing specificity in time and space.
The point isn’t to fuel public fear of the powerful tool; rather, it’s to look far ahead at potential dangers and find preventive treatments or countermeasures.
[May 2,] the search for a CRISPR antidote got more heated. A team led by Dr. Amit Choudhary at the Broad Institute of MIT, a member of Safe Genes, developed a “screening” platform for rapidly sifting through over 10,0000 small chemicals that dial down Cas9 scissors’ activity.
The team tweaked the structure of several promising candidates to further boost their anti-CRISPR power, generating two antidote molecules that prevent Cas9 from binding to and cutting its DNA target. When tested on human cells in petri dishes, the molecules floated through the cell membranes and reliably killed CRISPR activity within minutes.
These drugs are very early candidates—heck, they may be even more toxic than CRISPR running amok inside the body. Scientists will have to test them in animals to further assess their effectiveness and safety.
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