What will the new year of 2016 bring on the CRISPR front? It’s clear there will be more meetings on CRISPR ethics and policy (heck, we are having one right here at UC Davis on May 26), but what else is coming?
Below are my top 10 CRISPR predictions for the new year in no particular order. What are your CRISPR predictions? For more on my thinking on CRISPR and the future, also please take a look at my new book, GMO Sapiens and for the extreme case of what could go wrong see my TED talk.
The CRISPR predictions.
- The Noah’s arc of CRISPR-y critters continues to fill. We’ll see the trend of CRISPR’d animals accelerate. For more on CRISPR’d animals see here. The range of unusual GM animals such as super-muscled, glowing, or pint-sized critters will grow larger in 2016.
- More CRISPR’ing of human embryos. At least one and probably more new human embryo editing papers go beyond the one published this year. 2016 will bring higher quality published data on human embryo modification with better success than the first paper in 2015. This double-edged sword means the technology is improving and that is great, but at the same time it may encourage some to be bolder in calling for human modification (see below).
- Advocates for human editing push against restrictions. As we saw in 2015 with some voices for allowing or at least not restricting various forms of human genetic modification (George Church, Steven Pinker, Julian Savulescu, Nita Farahany, John Harris, and others) 2016 will bring more assertive calls for avoiding restrictions on or actively going forward with human genetic modification.
- Editing of viable human embryos. We’ll see some indications of genetic modification specifically of viable human embryos. With the current trends it is likely that someone will report modification of viable human embryos rather than only focusing on nonviable ones as in that first paper from 2015.
- CRISPR gets even better. More papers on making CRISPR systems that have better specifically and hence lower off-target effects in cells and model organisms. There will be more reports of CRISPR used to make precise mutations, not just INDELs.
- Standardization of CRISPR evaluation. Calls grow for standardization of how to evaluate how well CRISPR is working. Right now it can be a challenge to compare, for instance, efficiency and specificity in two different CRISPR papers.
- Human genetic modification laws. Talk grows at the federal and possibly state levels in the US regarding legislation on human genetic modification. This goes beyond the temporary restrictions in the appropriations bill passed in late 2015. Such legal restrictions, if enacted, may put a chill on important CRISPR experiments in the lab.
- Gene drive accelerates. We’ll see more interest in nuclease-driven gene drive. I hope this is next part is wrong, but it is possible a gene drive organism may exist outside of a lab whether intentional (e.g. an experiment with malaria) or due to accidental release. For more on the power of and concerns over gene drive see here.
- Patent progress? We’ll hear some news on the patent dispute over CRISPR.
- Going germ. Data on human germ cell (sperm or egg, primordial germ cell) editing are published. Talk grows of the possibility of using CRISPR’d human germ cells as an alternative to editing one-cell embryos.