The long-awaited 2021 is still in its infancy, but we’re so excited about what’s in store this year — most notably, of course, the COVID-19 vaccines that are now rolling out around the world. There’s also much to look forward to in our own field, genome engineering with CRISPR. Here are the trends we’ll be keeping an eye on in 2021.
To all the scientists out there working hard to find creative ways to scale up CRISPR workflows, we see you! We’re impressed by the community’s commitment to expanding throughput and edit capacity. Here at Inscripta, scaling up CRISPR was the single biggest impetus for bringing our automated genome engineering technology to market. We know it’s what the field needs to realize the promise of CRISPR experimentation.
Today’s methods for increasing the number of edits that can be performed in a cell are very cumbersome, or they restrict scientists to only studying genomic regions with high homology so they can be targeted with the same guide RNA. These techniques have required a lot of ingenuity to develop, and we applaud the progress they’ve enabled. As we roll out the Onyx™ automated digital genome engineering platform to more labs, though, we hope to eliminate this burden and allow multiple edits in multiple loci across entire genomes.
As scientists expand their CRISPR work to new species, they’re also continuously expanding the experimental uses for gene editing workflows. While editing microbes for bioproduction applications has become fairly common, we’re excited to see new efforts to engineer entire microbiomes. Whether it’s engineering clusters of human gut microbes to create therapeutics or engineering plant microbiomes to improve crop productivity in sustainable ways, there is huge potential in this area.
In other applications targeting human health, we see CRISPR editing as critical for helping to address the crisis of antimicrobial resistance. Understanding how microbes become resistant and tuning treatments to overcome that will be one of the most significant applications for genome engineering. Imagine if we could identify and target a gene that’s essential to the microbe, making it nearly impossible for that microbe to acquire resistance because it needs that gene to survive. As the healthcare community catalogs more and more microbes resistant to all classes of antimicrobial therapy, the need for this kind of development is urgent.
Beyond the science, it’s also valuable to keep an eye on the regulatory landscape governing the use of CRISPR editing and the engineered organisms that result from it. In the US, the USDA has created positive momentum by recognizing genome editing as an innovative new breeding technique. This has encouraged companies and universities to rapidly develop traits that are relevant to both consumers and farmers. This is an important step because it could help drive the adoption of editing technologies for more applications.
From the entire Inscripta team, we wish you all a happy, healthy new year!