Meeting Report: Genome Editors and CRISPRs meeting, Edinburgh 23rd April 2015
Posted by Lucy Freem, on 5 May 2015
Around 200 scientists from several Edinburgh research institutes gathered in central Edinburgh to discuss the current state and uses of zinc finger nucleases, TALENs (TAL effector nucleases) and CRISPR/Cas9 technology. The one-day meeting covered applications ranging from creating transgenic zebrafish lines to carrying out disease-relevant genetic modification of human cells. The meeting was lively and brought together researchers from disparate fields within animal, developmental, cell and biomedical biology. The breadth of research covered by the meeting greatly improved my understanding of the wide range of possible uses of the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) system.
The intellectual property and patent issues around CRISPRs were addressed in a talk by Douglas Drysdale from the patent law firm HGF, reminding academic researchers that commercialisation of gene editing procedures and of the results of such research is a thorny issue that requires legal consultation as early as possible, although use of the technology for academic research is relatively unobstructed.
Although gene editing in early mouse embryos appears to be a widely used method with highly efficient protocols available, researchers working on other species such as rats have sometimes found difficulties when pioneering genome editor use in that model organism. However, the value of establishing new transgenic methods in rats can be high, as shown by Linda Mullins from QMRI in her talk on gene knockout rat production using ZFNs . Progress with a complex CRISPR mouse model was also discussed. Some CRISPR design tools that she mentioned as having been useful are crispr.mit.edu and rgenome.net/cas-offinder.
Chris Proudfoot from the Roslin Institute discussed the use of genome editors in large agricultural animals, touching on the high efficiency necessary from such tools when only small numbers of animals can be used.
On the other end of the scale, CRISPRs were also shown to be useful in investigating subcellular events, the cell cycle and epigenetics, by producing highly targeted precise mutations or introducing transgenes into cultured cells. Chris Boyd from IGMM (Institute for Genetic and Molecular Medicine) discussed some of the potential technical pitfalls of CRISPRs in gene therapy applications in somatic cells, including issues around vector choice, immune responses to introduced nucleases or edited cells, and off-target gene editing.
Bioinformatician Anagha Joshi from the Roslin Institute is developing bioinformatics software for use by the CRISPR community, and is interested in hearing about how people use current software and what strengths and weaknesses people encounter with commonly used tools. She invites any scientists with recommendations for improving these tools to contact her at anagha.joshi at roslin.ed.ac.uk.
The meeting closed with a wine reception that fostered animated discussion of the talks and posters presented.