CRISPR Startups give Genome Editing several New Twists

Base editors, exonucleases, and other refinements enable advances in pathogen recognition, antibacterial development, genetic medicine, xenotransplantation, and agriculture.

Just seven years ago, the Broad Institute’s Feng Zhang, PhD, and Harvard geneticist George Church, PhD, separately demonstrated that in human cell cultures, genome editing could be performed using a CRISPR system. CRISPR, which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, first came to light as part of a naturally occurring defense system in bacteria. CRISPR DNA in bacteria includes repetitive elements and spacer elements, the latter of which encode RNA molecules that complex with a CRISPR-associated (Cas) nuclease and guide it to viral targets, that is, viruses that possess genetic material complementary to guide RNA.

After Zhang and Church showed that CRISPR-Cas9, one of the crude adaptive immune systems found in bacteria, had potential as a genomic engineering tool, many developers followed their lead. Early CRISPR startups—such as Editas Medicine, CRISPR Therapeutics, and Intellia Therapeutics—went public and have since prospered. And now a new crop of startups is showing that there’s still plenty of room for innovation.

Each of the new CRISPR startups features a unique twist on the original CRISPR formula. Examples of CRISPR twists include exotic enzymes and novel, sophisticated editing mechanisms. In this article, we present five CRISPR startups. Their applications range from making vegetables taste better to diagnosing COVID-19 in low-resource settings.

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