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Manuel Almagro Riva, Wikipedia

The gene-editing tool CRISPR can be used to rapidly diagnose infectious diseases, researchers show in a new study. They detected viruses like Zika and its close relative dengue, found cancer mutations and quickly spotted single genetic mutations.

Why it matters: The method is faster, cheaper and better than existing ones.

How it works: CRISPR is based on a defense system used by bacteria. It deploys an enzyme that scans a cell's genome to find a particular DNA sequence then snips it, allowing the sequence to then be tinkered with by changing or adding the molecules that form a genetic code. Feng Zhang and his colleagues have now shown that the same technique can be used to test saliva, blood, and other body fluids for the presence of genetic material from viruses and bacteria with a million times more sensitivity than today's most common diagnostic tool.

What to expect next: Commercialization. CRISPR-anything is big business. Venture capital firms, pharmaceutical companies and public stock offerings have already injected a billion dollars into companies harnessing the technology to engineer drugs, speed up livestock breeding, and create disease resistant crops. CRISPR diagnostic tools are likely to clear regulatory hurdles and make their way to market before more controversial gene-editing technologies.

Big picture: Walter Isaacson talked to Axios about the morality of it all.

Go deeper

51 mins ago - Health

COVID-19 drives smell loss awareness, research

A health worker carries out an olfactory test outside Buenos Aires. Photo: Alejandro Pagni/AFP via Getty Images

The pandemic has thrust a relatively unknown ailment, anosmia — or smell loss — into the international spotlight.

Why it matters: Researchers hope smell testing becomes as standard as the annual flu shot, helping to detect early signs of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Senate passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate voted 50-49 on Saturday to approve President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Why it matters: COVID relief has been a central promise for Biden, and passing the sweeping package has been a major priority for the administration and congressional Democrats.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
3 hours ago - Health

Why we need to know COVID's origins

The WHO's headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Geopolitical tensions are foiling efforts to get to the bottom of how COVID-19 originated.

Why it matters: Insights into how COVID-19 began can help us prevent future pandemics — especially if it involved any kind of leak or accident at a virology lab.