Safe Genes, DARPA’s genetic watchdog, progresses to the second phase
In 2017, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched a project directly involved in genetic engineering, with special focus on CRISPR. As the name “Safe Genes” suggested, scientists in the program pursued various ways to control modern gene editing technologies. Among objectives, there was also prevention and mitigation of biorisk associated with misuse of CRISPR.
The first phase of the program lasted two years and resulted in development of:
- VIVO: Verification of In Vivo Off-targets (associated publication),
- CRISPResso2: rapid analysis of editing outcomes (tool available here),
- better performance of base editors (associated publication),
- anti-CRISPR proteins: inhibitors against Cas9 and Cas12a (associated publication),
- high throughput methods for detection of Cas proteins and their inhibitors (associated publication),
- self-limiting gene drive (associated publication).
The next phase of the program continues previous efforts and extends its focus on gene drives. Two teams of scientists, under Omar Akbari and Amit Choudhary, will study performance of gene drives in populations and will create versions of CRISPR/Cas capable of controlling gene drive activity.
Program manager concludes:
We set out to protect against misuse of genome editors, and by virtue of making progress in that mission, we’re also laying the groundwork for safe, predictable, and potentially transformative applications of the technology to preserve the health of service members and support public health more broadly.Renee Wegrzyn, program manager