DARPA Interested in New Syn-Bio Discovery

The US defence agency DARPA has awarded a $32 million contract to a Boston area partnership that has also, coincidentally, developed a potentially revolutionary new approach to the powerful CRISPR gene editing toolkit. More

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Broad Institute said on Thursday that a genetic engineering partnership it has with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has received a five-year, $32 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract.

The contract was awarded to the Foundry, a partnership between Broad Technology Labs (BTL) and the Synthetic Biology Center of MIT, which is developing technology for designing, testing, and manufacturing large sequences of genetic information for medical, industrial, and agriculture uses on a scale not currently possible. __ https://www.genomeweb.com/business-news/broad-institute-mit-partnership-nabs-32m-darpa-contract

The new CRISPR approach, using protein Cpf1, promises to be even more effective, economical, and broadly applicable, than the CRISPR/Cas 9 approach.

The new protein may also open up CRISPR work to many more participants, and cut through the current patent rights quagmire over CRISPR/Cas9.

Eugene Koonin, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health who coauthored the paper in Cell, said the current work began with computer predictions of proteins in bacteria that might serve a similar cutting role as Cas9. “It is indeed a new system that is substantially different than the previously known one,” he says.

Scientists not involved in the work said the new system was likely to fill a limited role in what is a growing toolbox of DNA-editing techniques. George Church, who develops genomics technology at Harvard University, says the system has features that could be useful in cells that don’t divide, including nerves and most other cells in our body, which are typically harder to edit. “There is a niche market for a collection of different proteins so that cuts can be placed anywhere in the genome,” he says.

Broad and Feng have won more than 10 key patents on CRISPR genome editing using Cas9. __ http://www.technologyreview.com/news/541681/new-crispr-protein-slices-through-genomes-patent-problems/

Brian Wang has more at NextBigFuture

CRISPR is a particularly potent and newsworthy approach to gene editing research and development, which is likely to yield a number of Nobel Prizes in the coming years. Multiple research elaborations of the technology are occurring on an almost daily basis.

The infographic below provides more basic information of CRISPR:

With so much potential utility, no wonder DARPA is funding the Broad Institute — and no wonder so many startups in syn-bio are beginning to find new funding.

New drugs, new crops, new materials, new fuels, new approaches to human gene therapies, new research models, and many more possibilities, are riding on the powerful new CRISPR techniques.

Chinese researchers are already working on modifying the genomes of human embryos. UK researchers are requesting permission to use CRISPR on human embryos. We are approaching a Brave New World of new technologies, which we are hoping will not lead us into a future 1984.

When combined with nanotech, robotics, advanced computing, additive manufacturing, and a number of other cutting edge technologies, syn-bio is likely to change virtually everything about the modern world.

Everything that can be made, can also be hacked. The world of coming disruptive technologies will need to be studied and mastered on several levels, if we are to be prepared.

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