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Edible ‘CRISPR pill’ could help combat superbugs, food scientist says

Staff writers, April 19, 2017 6:00PM news.com.au

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SCIENTISTS across the globe are increasingly concerned* by antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which no longer respond to the drugs designed to fight them off.

This is leaving humans more vulnerable to illness and infection.

Drug-resistant bacteria are on the rise due to the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals but revolutionary* gene-editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9 could help combat the bacteria’s spread, scientists say.

Researchers at a US university want to copy the ability of CRISPR — which lets scientists edit human genes to remove nasty diseases — by creating a pill that does a similar thing by targeting bad bacteria and causing it to self destruct*.

Vitamins and pills. Picture: supplied media_cameraVitamins and pills. Picture: supplied

Genes decide some of the characterises of people and are passed down through families.

The CRISPR probiotic* cocktail would “kill your bacteria of choice,” said food scientist Jan-Peter Van Pijkeren of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He believes the idea could be used to fight germs that cause huge problems for human heath.

CRISPR is an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” which refers to the way bacteria works to fight off infection.

The “CRISPR pill”, or probiotic bacteria drink, developed by Prof Van Pijkeren would force the problem bug to kill itself.

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The method could prove more precise than using antibiotics and help address the growing problem of human resistance to once helpful antibiotics.

“The downside of antibiotics is they are a sledgehammer that depletes* and destroys the gut microbial community*,” Prof van Pijkeren said.

But, the potentially revolutionary research is still in early stages and hasn’t yet been tested on animals, let alone humans.

New Zealand’s University of Otago microbiologist Peter Fineran told the MIT Technological Review that “there is still quite a long way to go before this replaces our current antibiotics.”

But if it proves successful, CRISPR could become not just the world’s most effective gene editing tool, but also the best bacteria-killing technology available.

GLOSSARY

concerned: worried

revolutionary: causing a dramatic change

self destruct: destroy itself

probiotic: substance which stimulates growth of beneficial microorganisms

depletes: loses

gut microbial community: things in stomach that keep humans healthy and well

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Activity 1. What’s it all about?

Read the story and answer theses questions:

1. What is a superbug?

2. Why are superbugs such a big problem?

3. What are we doing that is causing this problem?

4. What does CRISPR let scientists do?

5. What does Jan-Peter Van Pijkeren think that a CRISPR pill might do?

Curriculum Links: Science

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity

Extension:

Do you know what genes are and why they are important?

Find out more about genes and use the information you have found to create a storyboard for a short video. The purpose of your video is to teach students in your class about genes.

Curriculum Links: Science

Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity

Activity 2.

In the story, you have read that Jan Peter Van Pijkeren’s idea has not been proved yet.

Scientists need money to do the testing and research that can prove that their ideas, or theories, can actually work.

Sometimes the government or private businesses give them this support.

Imagine that you are Jan Peter Van Pijkeren.

Write a letter that you will send to businesses and the government.

The purpose of your letter is to persuade them to give you support to keep working on this project.

In your letter explain your ideas and why developing the CRISPR pill would be so important.

Curriculum Links: English, Science

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity

Extension:

Antibiotics are important drugs that can save lives, but overuse causes problems.

Think of some rules that we could use to make sure that antibiotics and other drugs or medicines are used safely.

Curriculum Links: Health and Physical Education

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity

VCOP ACTIVITY

(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation)

Up-Level It

Find a really basic sentence in the article and use as many VCOP elements to up-level it.

Extension:

Highlight the VCOP in your new sentence and compare with a partner and their sentence.

Are they similar or different?

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write, VCOP

Activity provided by Andrell Education www.andrelleducation.com.au

EXTRA RESOURCES

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FOSTER CARE VITAL FOR 1400 KIDS

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