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Search for a CRISPR Undo

With CRISPR, gene editing has taken off and is being applied to a whole host of biological problems, leading some researchers — including the University of California, Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna — to explore ways of turning the gene editing machinery off, Technology Review reports. That way, they could, perhaps, head off malicious or unintended use of the technology.

In 2016, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced its Safe Genes program to fund researchers studying ways to protect genomes from unwanted editing. Doudna, Tech Review reports, was one of the researchers funded by the program. According to a 2017 press release from UC Berkeley, DARPA supplied $65 million in funding to seven projects aimed at, in addition to developing better ways to insert the CRISPR machinery into cells, uncovering additional anti-CRISPR proteins.

So far, Tech Review says some 40 anti-CRISPRs have been discovered and that a team at Sandia National Laboratories plans to test some in a mouse model this year. Having a way of stopping CRISPR could "tamp down the mental accessibility to a malign personality," Sandia's Joseph Schoeniger tells it. "If you can turn it off, maybe they won't bother. From a psychological point of view, it's nice to have an 'off' button. It's nice for positioning that technology in society."