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When it comes to genome editing, CRISPR is undeniably king. But these molecular scissors aren’t the only tools used to rejigger genetic material. Previous generations of gene-editing tools are still very much in play — particularly zinc finger nucleases, TALEN, and meganucleases. And there’s a bit of a misconception that the prior generations are inferior to CRISPR technology: In reality, they may offer some advantages.

“I would say that zinc finger nucleases, TALEN, and meganucleases all work well and can be as active and specific as CRISPR,” said Dr. Donald Kohn, director of the human gene medicine program at University of California, Los Angeles. The major advantage of CRISPR, he said, is that it’s far easier to design — “whereas the other nucleases require more extensive development to make them more effective.”


Indeed, since its 2012 discovery, CRISPR has become widely available to researchers and biopharma companies alike — and is inexpensive compared to the other options. But alternative, old-school gene-editing technologies are farther ahead than CRISPR in terms of actual drug development.

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