I’m dreaming of a genome Christmas

By Jonathan Jackson. Published at Jan 29, 2019, in Buy and Cell

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Recently in Melbourne it was 44 degrees. It was hot. Damn hot. Real hot. Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it. Thanks to the late, great Robin Williams for that. It was hot around the country and some people who forgot to slip, slop, slap were getting burnt to a crisp.

This brings me to the completely unrelated CRISPR.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene editing tool that makes it easier to edit the genome. It has become so popular amongst the research and development set that companies such as the German chemical producer BASF are exploring its potential in commercial agriculture and microbiology.

You can read more about CRISPR here.

The $58.3 billion capped BASF has obtained a non-exclusive license from the US Broad Institute to modify crop plants to increase yield and make them resistant to disease.

I remember when BASF used to make audio cassette tapes that allowed me to tape songs from the radio. Although one more hot day like yesterday and my memory will be a blister in the sun.

With Christmas 2018 now a short memory, researchers at the University of Warwick have been experimenting with CRISPR-Cas9, proposing to use it to insert firefly genes for glowing proteins into the genomes of Christmas trees.

That means you wouldn’t need lights, the trees would naturally glow at night.

I’m dreaming of a genome Christmas.

And it seems many others have their own plans for genomes. Take the group that started a Kickstarter campaign to make bioluminescent pot plants, or Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde who wants streetlights to glow (clearly with less electricity used).

Euro biotech Syngulon will be developing antibacterial peptides using CRISPR-Cas9.

Syngulon has been working on developing bacteriocins, molecules that are useful alternatives to antibiotics. They need much smaller quantities to have the same effect and reduce production costs and increase yield. They also help to reduce over-reliance on antibiotics.

Last year, Australia jumped on the CRISPR-CAS9 bandwagon when Australia's gene technology regulator Raj Bhula proposed reducing regulations around gene editing techniques such as CRISPR, following a 12 month technical review into the current regulations.

"With gene editing you don't always have to use genetic material from another organism, it is just editing the [existing] material within the organism," Dr Bhula said.

"All of our regulatory frameworks and laws have been established based on people putting unrelated genetic material into another organism.

"Whereas this process is just manipulation within the organism and not introducing anything foreign."

That sounds promising, especially for any Australian biotech working in this field.

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