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CRISPR a tool for conservation, not just gene editing

The gene-editing technology CRISPR has been used for a variety of agricultural and public health purposes—from growing disease-resistant crops to, more recently, a diagnostic test for the virus that causes COVID-19.

Now a study involving fish that look nearly identical to the endangered Delta smelt finds that CRISPR can be a conservation and resource management tool, as well. The researchers think its ability to rapidly detect and differentiate among species could revolutionize environmental monitoring .

The study, published in the journal Molecular Ecology Resources , was led by scientists at the University of California, Davis, and the California Department of Water Resources in collaboration with MIT Broad Institute.

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As a proof of concept, it found that the CRISPR-based detection platform SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter Unlocking) was able to genetically distinguish threatened fish species from similar-looking nonnative species in nearly real time, with no need to extract DNA.

“CRISPR can do a lot more than edit genomes,” said co-author Andrea Schreier, an adjunct assistant professor in the UC Davis animal science department. “It […]

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