Editing the Genome

Scientists Unveil New Tools for Rewriting the Code of Life

The power to edit genes is as revolutionary, immediately useful and unlimited in its potential as was Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. And like Gutenberg’s invention, most DNA editing tools are slow, expensive, and hard to use — a brilliant technology in its infancy. Now, Harvard researchers developing genome-scale editing tools as fast and easy as word processing have rewritten the genome of living cells using the genetic equivalent of search and replace — and combined those rewrites in novel cell strains, strikingly different from their forebears.

"The payoff doesn’t really come from making a copy of something that already exists," said George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who led the research effort in collaboration with Joe Jacobson, an associate professor at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "You have to change it — functionally and radically."

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Researchers have unveiled genome-engineering technologies capable of fundamentally re-engineering genomes from the nucleotide to the megabase scale. Treating the chromosome as both an editable and an evolvable template, the researchers have demonstrated methods to rewrite a cell’s genome through powerful new tools for biotechnology, energy and agriculture. (Credit: iStockphoto/Zmeel Photography)

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