Excerpt from Alex Lash‘s Xconomy article about Paul Allen’s new $100M biotech research initiative:
“Whether those headline-grabbing scenarios come true, or CRISPR-Cas9 just remains a useful tool for all kinds of biological research, one thing is for sure. CRISPR-Cas9 does what it does by cutting DNA.
But in a paper published last week in Cell, a group of researchers at the University of California, San Diego, say they have used CRISPR-Cas9 in a very different way. They have tweaked CRISPR-Cas9 to leave DNA alone and instead latch onto RNA molecules—the messengers of genetic instructions—in a live cell, which allows them to track the RNA as it moves around the cell. This could, in turn, lead to insights into the behavior of cells themselves and potentially new ways to study or attack diseases.
The possibility of using CRISPR to monitor and even alter RNA got a shout-out Wednesday from billionaire Paul Allen. To push ahead with the RNA work, University of Berkeley, California biochemist and CRISPR-Cas9 pioneer Jennifer Doudna received one of four individual awards of $1.5 million from a new $100 million program funded by Allen. He established his Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group to encourage “out of the box approaches at the frontiers of knowledge,” he said, speaking at an unveiling today in Washington, DC.
Doudna is a coauthor of the Cell paper, in part because the work from the UCSD lab was based on earlier insights her Berkeley lab published in 2014. The UCSD team is led by Gene Yeo, who runs a multidisciplinary biosciences lab at the school. They have already formed a company—the working title is Locana, the Sanskrit word for “sight” or “vision”—to turn their invention into a lab tool others can use just for cells in a dish for now. “We could already hand it off as a diagnostic for researchers to use, but not yet to use in patients,” Yeo says.”