June/July Newsreel

Hi folks! We haven’t been updating the blog in awhile, but we’re back to give you some updates in the world of synthetic biology (with links)!

Policy/Popular News

  • Last Week Tonight covered CRISPR gene editing in a recent episode. With interviews from Jennifer Doudna, George Church, and Kevin Esvelt, we think it’s a pretty good watch.
  • The FDA approved golden rice!
  • Controversially, the EU now includes gene-edited crops and animals under the umbrella of GMOs (which previously only meant organisms with recombinant/foreign DNA inserted). This will lead to more regulations of gene-editing in Europe and have a huge impact on research there.

Industry News

  • Here’s an article about the rise of Oxford Nanopore and how Illumina is burying their head in the sand about it.
  • Programmable, enzymatic synthesis of DNA from scratch is finally becoming a reality! Keasling lab just published a proof-of-concept paper demonstrating one method, and startup DNAscript reports that their enzymatic oligo synthesis has reached 50 nucleotides!
  • Our Lanzatech neighbors over in Skokie have launched their first waste gas to ethanol plant in China! If you don’t know, they use Clostridium autoethanogenum to convert carbon monoxide to ethanol and eventually other useful products.

Gene Editing

  • Lots of CRISPR news recently. First, in June, a paper in Nature Medicine claimed that CRISPR activates the p53-mediated DNA damage repair system in human tissues, which is a pretty big problem. Also, a paper in Nature Biotech in July by Allen Bradley claims CRISPR causes much larger off-target deletions (several kilobases!) than previously thought. Do these claims hold up? Will they apply to the upgraded CRISPR enzyme variants, which are engineered to greatly reduce off-target effects and perform editing without introducing double strand breaks? Time will tell.


  • I think this paper is super cool. The Anderson lab used circular RNAs to reduce degradation and improve protein yields from translation by 800% more than unprotected mRNA and 50% more than mRNA protected from degradation by other methods.
  • Northwestern synbio alert! Here’s an update from a Mrksich/Jewett/DeLisa lab collaboration. One-pot cell-free synthesis of glycoproteins!
  • Selenoproteins are cool! The Ellington lab evolved some recoded E. coli strains to incorporate selenocysteine into proteins to form diselenide bonds, which are more stable than disulfide bonds.
  • There are SEVEN, count ’em, seven papers out about advances with SCRaMbLE, gene shuffling/duplicating/deleting capability installed by the synthetic yeast genome project, Sc2.0. Here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.



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