Mammoth Biosciences launches a CRISPR-powered search engine for disease detection

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Most people tend to think of CRISPR as a groundbreaking gene-editing technology that can hunt down and snip away bits of DNA, like the cut and paste function on a keyboard. While many research projects tend to emphasize the potential of that process in replacing target bits of genetic material, for Mammoth Biosciences, the search function is the real game changer.

“Control + F is the exciting part,” Mammoth co-founder and CEO Trevor Martin told TechCrunch in an interview. “At core it’s just this amazing search engine that we can use to find things. The way that we search for things is just like Google.”

To conduct that search, one must enter a guide RNA and tell a CRISPR protein what to search for, any specific DNA  or RNA sequence, from a malaria pathogen to a biomarker for leukemia. Mammoth’s novel technology uses a reporter molecule that exudes color when the sequence is located and snipped, indicating that the genetic search term was present in the sample and making the result of such a search viewable with the naked eye.

As the company’s documentation explains, the process would go like this:

This could be as simple as a rapid test on a credit-card sized disposable paper strip that anyone could use at home… For at-home testing, once the user has completed the test, they will securely upload an anonymous photo of the strip to Mammoth’s corresponding application for remote analysis and then receive their confidential results and professional advice – all in under an hour.

While the diagnostic element is big for the company, Mammoth is positioning itself as the platform for an “infinite number of tests” that the company and its partners could run. And while cancer is a massive application for CRISPR, the technology isn’t limited to health. Martin notes that it could be used in something like agriculture to identify a soil biome or to crack a forensic case gone cold.

Mammoth’s team is led by two Stanford PhDs, Trevor Martin and Ashley Tehranchi, CEO and CTO respectively. The research portion of the work will be helmed by Berkeley PhD students Janice Chen and Lucas Harrington. Notably, Mammoth also lists the legendary Jennifer Doudna, the scientist who discovered the CRISPR gene-editing mechanism, as a co-founder and chair of the company’s advisory board.

Doudna’s breakthrough is what makes Mammoth’s platform — and all things CRISPR — possible. “[That] really amazing work shows that you can build this kind of platform using CRISPR-based technology,” Martin said.

Mammoth Biosciences raised $120,000 from NFX Guild in 2017 and since then has pieced together capital from a variety of sources, including Mayfield, NFX, 8VC, AME Cloud, Wireframe, Kairos and Boom Capital, though the company declined to disclose the amount it has raised.

“Because we have this really transformative platform for disease detection, it’s really allowing us to rethink the business models about building this type of biotech company,” Martin told TechCrunch. “Because the technology is so programmable, we’re really leveraging [to make] Mammoth a platform company for detection.”

Mammoth’s next big step is to search for partners like universities and corporations that have interesting biomarkers that could be plugged into its CRISPR platform. The ultimate goal, as Martin explains, is to leverage its device-free system “to bring those biomarkers the last mile or even the last foot into the healthcare system.”

“We’re really excited to partner with these companies to use our platform,” Martin said. “[Mammoth] enables these awesome biomarkers to actually get used.”