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Sherlock Biosciences has developed a rapid diagnostic test that detects genetic material from viruses in a portable, room-temperature format. The test relies on a CRISPR enzyme and a short piece of RNA called a “reporter molecule,” designed to glow when it’s been cut. The enzyme is called Cas13, and it’s a little different from Cas9. A guide RNA tells Cas13 what virus DNA sequence it’s looking for, but when it finds it, the enzyme doesn’t cut the viral DNA. Instead, it cuts the reporter molecule.
Here’s how the test works, then. The DNA or RNA from the sample is copied into DNA using a chemical reaction called LAMP, which can be done in a single tube—no complex equipment required. Next, Cas13 and the reporter molecule are added to the mix. When Cas13 encounters the viral DNA sequence, it starts cutting the reporter molecule, which then glows, creating a nice, easy-to-interpret positive test. If the viral sequence isn’t there, however, Cas13 does nothing. No cut, no glow, negative test.
Sherlock already has a rapid point-of-care test for Covid-19 on the market, and they’re working on flu tests. Eventually, the hope is to develop tests for dangerous viruses like Ebola. Such tests could provide a big benefit in areas where it’s difficult to get access to high-tech lab equipment.
A new kind of antibiotics
Antibiotic resistance is shaping up to be one of the biggest health challenges of our era, as bacteria evolve ways to survive the poisons we throw at them. The problem won’t be solved by just improving the drugs we have; it demands entirely new ways of killing disease-causing bacteria.
The other big problem is that antibiotics can be indiscriminate. Believe it or not, your body contains more bacterial cells than human cells, and most of those bacteria are doing you a favor. Plenty of “good” bacteria live in our digestive system, helping us process nutrients and even potentially staving off various diseases. Taking antibiotics can kill off the good with the bad, disrupting the whole system.
A phage is a virus that infects bacteria. Locus is engineering phages to carry Cas3 enzymes, which … [+] will chew up bacterial DNA “like Pac-Man,” creating a remarkably specific and effective antibiotic.