Is Crispr the Next Antibiotic?

In nature, the gene-editing tool Crispr protects bacteria against viruses. Now it’s being harnessed in the fight against superbugs and the flu.

Comments: 30

  1. I hope scientists will approach this world-changing technology with the diligence it demands. Rushing to clinical trials in pursuit of profits could be disastrous. Remember the mosquitoes that weren't supposed to be able to breed? They did.

  2. It's not scientists that are racing to get new technologies to market as soon as they are discovered. Scientists are more cautious and want to fully understand how the technology works. It is the business people who are at the top of companies who tell the scientists what to work on and how fast it needs to be put into the hands of consumers.

  3. The problem is getting the Crispr to the target bacteria. Viruses won't work well, as they themselves have also been used therapeutically and are easily rendered useless by the bacteria mutating. The lytic enzymes produced by viruses are a more promising approach, assuming they can be modified to be able to kill gram negative bacteria.

  4. So rather than going through evolutionary pathways that make sure the ecosystem remains in balance someone with an eye towards profits and an incomplete understanding of the ecosystem that he is implanting his/her opinions in the rest of us may end up in a holocaust...... see also "Sign of the Labrys" in which a man-made/designed fungal change ends civilization.... circa 1963 People are so emotionally frangible when presented with a dollar amount for immediate success.

  5. @Afraid of ME Notice the Prof started the business and we know the research was paid for by the US taxpayer, cha ching cha ching

  6. I eagerly await immortality, or the zombie apocalypse...

  7. Pray tell, what does "Using this Crispr system, researchers saw up to a 40-fold reduction in viral RNA within 24 hours." mean? That the viral RNA is -39 times as much?

  8. @Larry Israel Presumably they want to express that there has been a 97.5% reduction? That there is now 1/40th as much?

  9. @Larry Israel The viral load was reduced to 1/40th of its initial concentration. 2.5% of its former amount. 97.5% of the virus was erradicated. Infection depends not just on the presence of an invader but on "load", how much of the virus/bacteria is initially present. A low enough load can allow the immune system to do its job before reproduction of the bug overwhelms the immune system into a game of catch-up.

  10. If there are, say, 10,000 copies of viral RNA per infected cell that CRISPR treatment reduces that 40-fold to 250 copies per cell.

  11. I'm one of many (possibly thousands) of individuals who apparently has a genetic predisposition to a certain type of statin-triggered disease. That at least some statin-triggered diseases are genetically related is proven by a test which analyzes a gene called SLCO1B1. 2% of people have two copies of the gene, and these people are about 17 times more likely to develop statin-induced myopathy. Tens of millions of Americans take statin drugs. Since the US, shockingly, has no compulsory system for reporting the adverse effects of drugs, we don't know how many consequently suffer adverse effects, nor do we know the severity of the diseases they get. The fact that I've personally bumped into four people locally who have horrible, permanent debilitating diseases subsequent to taking a statin shows that it's not that rare. You might benefit by reporting your own situation to There are a lot of us. There are photos on the website of the myopathy mentioned in the DNA test above. From 6-hour days hiking mountain trails to dead the dead muscles shown in the photos, and now unable to walk around the block. There is help for some of us: Statin-Associated Autoimmune Myopathy, newly diagnosed, is being treated. But as far as I know, all those of us whose lives drastically changed for the worse at age 50, 60 or so are enduring the last quarter of our lives in pain and isolation. Is anyone working on genetic treatment? I can bring thousands of patients.

  12. Careful! We know that auto immune diseases are caused when pathogens mimic natural cells in our body. Can you imagine if one of these Crispr antibiotics started killing our own cells

  13. From my understanding, crispr should not alter genes that are in human cells because it is exclusive to certain genetic targets. It should edit only “sets of code” which exist in bacteria such as those that facilitate reproduction. A prime example of a pathogen mimicking the human body is rheumatic fever/heart disease. The M protein of streptococci are very similar to proteins found in heart valves and the body makes immune cells which target M protein when there is an infection. It is important to treat cases of strep quickly so that too many antibodies aren’t produced and cross react with heart tissues which damages them. In this case, the protein being attacked is not genetic material, hence crispr could not target it. Crispr could theoretically remove the genes which code for the production of the M protein on streptococci, however these are still not genes that are found in eukaryotic cells and they could not be damaged.

  14. Rushing toward profits without considering safety and Crispr will end up like Boeing only we, the people, will pay the price for a therapy gone wrong if clinical trials are not run appropriately and the results are not tampered with by the company trying to make a fortune from Crispr.

  15. We certainly need this sort of technology before the script kiddies get tool kits to produce infectious viruses.

  16. Dr. Barrangou co-founded Locus Biosciences

  17. Between this article and the comments it is becoming increasingly obvious to me why there is zero evidence of surviving advanced intelligent lifeforms in our universe, and no, Homo saps has not been around long enough to qualify as an advanced intelligent lifeform.

  18. What we are seeing is humanity taking on the power of gods in its ability to manipulate the world. We have seen this before when nuclear weapons destroyed whole cities in Japan. The question I have is which of these powerful world altering methods will lead to the destruction of the human race, since it really only takes one serious mistake, either with nuclear weapons or with gene chemistry, to set off an unstoppable series of events that brings about the end.

  19. @Tom Krebsbach That chain of events was started long ago

  20. Look at the major CRISPr stocks. Enough said. The VCs and business types seem to be driving a lot of this. Let’s let the scientists do their thing.

  21. @Cindy Absent investors, who's going to pay the scientists and fund their labs?

  22. The big question if this is successful is how much will pharmaceutical companies are going to take patients & insurance to the cleaners for?

  23. This is fascinating stuff, but I'm left scratching my head as to why (finally) we need scientists to "inform" us that not all microbiota are bad. Cheese anyone? Pickles? Beer, cider or wine? Aged meat? Yogurt? Sauerkraut? Kombucha? Tempeh? Sure, genetics matter. But when I see my sickly friends laid low by every virus or bacterium, I often also see evidence of a life lived in a state of forced isolation from anything resembling a robust micro-biome....awash in hand sanitizer, insides hollowed out by antibiotics at every sneeze, never a hand in the earth, etc. That's not a way of being much aligned with our long history as a species. I have another young friend (several, actually) growing up these days surrounded by animals, out of doors 75% of the time, barefoot nine months of the year, etc. Unremarkably, my wee friends also seem to have nearly bomb-proof immune systems. Go figure. The most significant thing about CRISPR in the context of this article is that it will enable monetization (yet again) of some vital part of our planetary commons. Far from being anti-science, I just find it alarming that in our epistemological adventures we've more or less come to use science in the same way that we employ antibiotics: indiscriminately and much to the detriment of other ways of a disinfectant of sorts. The parallel deployments of these technologies says a lot about us a culture and about the state our planet it in.

  24. @DES Right you are about the over-use of antibiotics. My family, from another country, where such over-sanitization isn't the norm, where pickled foods are part of everyone's diet, where contact with animals is normal, where every child hasn't had 10-12 courses of antibiotics before their teens, almost never gets sick. I'm not going to tell where they're from. No need to give the pharmaceutical industry a target for a new market to exploit.

  25. @DES The arrogance of man knows no bounds.

  26. A number of readers either caution against moving too fast with this technology or cynically argue that the profit motive is the essence of what's driving it. I may agree with the second opinion, but being one of thousands damaged by another precipitous, profit-driven implementation of radical technology, may I beg that we not hold back on trying out whatever has a chance of curing us? We're still in the midst of a wild experiment wherein more than 25% of Americans over 40 are taking a drug that lowers their LDL cholesterol levels to pretty much as low as we choose. About half of those over 75 are on this drug, and yet this demographic hasn't even been studied. There are still arguments in journals like JAMA that assert that there's no proven benefit for primary prevention (for those who haven't already had a heart attack or stroke). We have no system for tracking adverse effects, and thus no record of what damage may being done. We know that this drug blocks the benefit of exercise, cutting the increase in the number and the potency of mitochondria that would normally occur. We know that it causes permanent myopathy and nerve damage in some people, number not tracked and thus unknown. For those of us who've been so carelessly damaged by this drug, may we please ask that you allow us the risk and the hope of trying this new technology? We might all learn something from this vast experiment in which we’ve been the subjects. Please, help.

  27. @sing75 This medical advancement doesnt work lets try this one?

  28. Bacteria-phages are the most promising development to combat the "super bug" but Big Pharma has squashed research to promote their antibiotics and profits

  29. I’m sorry, but you don’t know what you are talking about. I have worked in the pharma industry and your view of this is wrong. Big pharma doesn’t make good money from antibiotics. They actually try to stay away from antibiotics because they can’t make billions with them, like they do with, for example, cholesterol drugs that people need to take for years or for their whole life. Antibiotics are taken once to cure the infection and then you are done - that’s not an attractive business proposition to big pharma. That’s why it’s very hard to get companies to invest in developing new antibiotics. And many startup companies that have tried to develop new antibiotics have gone under. Phages are a very attractive idea that should be explored further, but it has been very hard to make them work properly in people and funding for that R&D has been hard to find.

  30. This is a nifty application of CRISPR technology, but it's easily overcome by mutations in target cells that would render a given "attack" bug useless. The article correctly points out that in this case, new counter-attack bugs can be deployed, but this makes me think of all the space junk orbiting around our planet; a similar scenario might arise, but in our guts, with engineered microbes. Nevertheless, I'm all for continuing the development of this stuff. Exciting times. CRISPR technologies give us so much capacity to surgically strike at DNA with super-high specificity, either to eliminate it (in pathogens), or to edit it (in human cells). Exciting times.