3 CRISPR editing innovations to watch in 2022

According to most accounts, Doudna’s history-altering discovery started over coffee with Jillian Banfield, a University of California microbiologist who spends her field seasons knee-deep in caves and abandoned mines panning for bacterial riches. Since then, the duo has continued to collaborate. In December, they introduced a way to simultaneously edit multiple species — and with it the power to alter entire microbial ecosystems.

Published in Nature Microbiology, their method for “community editing” includes a barcoding system to track changes made to the DNA of microbes living outside the lab — like in the roots of a corn plant or the sloshing stomach of a cow. In an email, Doudna told STAT that the technique will be essential for understanding how bacteria and viruses interact in their natural context, especially if we hope to one day manipulate those microbes to our benefit. “Since genetic tools have mostly constrained us to looking at single species of microorganisms until recently, these interactions have largely been ignored or very challenging to investigate,” she wrote.

Over the long term, Doudna imagines community editing could be developed into therapeutic strategies that might supplant more blunt tools like antibiotics. Urinary tract infections, for example, are on the rise, and getting harder to treat as the bacteria that cause them are becoming more resistant to existing drugs. “DNA editing in a community could behave like a scalpel that would not even have to kill the problematic bacteria, it would mutate and disrupt the function of the specific infection-enabling DNA in that bacteria, making it non-infectious,” she wrote. “This would minimize upset to your natural microbial community and would decrease the risk of opportunistic pathogens or antibiotic-resistant microbes from filling the void left by the antibiotic treatment.”







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