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CRISPR As Disease-Detector

Mammoth Biosciences, a company cofounded by CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna, has announced it is developing a platform to detect and diagnose disease using CRISPR technology, as GenomeWeb has reported.

Company cofounder Trevor Martin from Stanford University tells the Verge that CRISPR isn't just a gene-editing tool, but is "biology's search engine." The Verge adds that CRISPR can be harnessed to search for certain stretches of DNA — like those found in a virus — and linked to fluorescent enzymes that change color in the presence of disease to serve as a diagnostic.

The paper-based test Mammoth is developing is to be small — the size of a credit card — and is to be able to quickly detect multiple conditions at the same time, GenomeWeb adds, noting that the developers envision its use both in the clinic and at home. Color changes on the paper test would then be analyzed by a smartphone app. According to the Verge, the company says it has a few prototypes.

Wired notes that this new company could add another wrinkle to the ongoing CRISPR patent dispute, as it says Mammoth appears to be interested in using Cas12a, which the Broad Institute's Feng Zhang filed gene-editing patents on 2015 and licensed to Editas Therapeutics, though Caribou Biosciences, also started by Doudna, filed its own patents on it in 2016.