What is this CRISPR craze all about?
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, CRISPR is a topic on everyone’s lips; from scientific journals to mainstream television coverage and even to social forums. So, why is everyone talking about CRISPR? In order to better understand that, we need to take a look at where we’ve come from so that it’s possible to see why CRISPR technology is such a breakthrough.
Genetic engineering has had “molecular scissors” since the 1970 discovery of restriction endonucleases. While studying bacteria and their resistance to viral infections, scientists were cued into a built-in self-defense within bacterial cells called restriction enzymes, also known as restriction endonucleases. These enzymes possessed the ability to destroy invading viral DNA by cleaving it, thereby preserving the bacteria. It was this ability to “cut DNA” that opened doors to gene editing. Since that period, families of restriction enzymes have been developed as the bourgeoning field of genetic engineering advanced. Today, Meganucleases, Zinc finger nucleases, TALEN and now CRISPR are the four types of engineered restriction enzymes that dominate the scene. Each one harnesses the molecular technology that makes gene manipulation possible, from deletion and insertion to activation and knock-outs. This has impacted various fields of scientific research, leading to advancements in areas such as cancer therapies, genomics (The Human Genome Project) and agricultural biology.
With the CRISPR-Cas9 system being the most recent pair of “molecular scissors” to add to the research tool repertoire, the endless possibilities of genetic engineering become much more tangible. CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats) and Cas9 (CRISPR Associated Proteins) endonuclease are part of a bacterial adaptive immune system that benefits from viral DNA stored from previous bacteriophage attacks. This stored DNA acts as a reminder of past invaders and once transcribed, the resulting snippets of complementary RNA guide the Cas9 protein to invading bacteriophage DNA to cleave its genetic material, ceasing the takeover. In a research setting, scientists can design and create gRNA (guide RNA) which can then lead the Cas9 enzyme to make a “cut” at the appropriate DNA locus. Therefore, virtually any gene being studied can be easily targeted by the CRISPR-Cas9 system. Access to this flexible technology delivers the most efficient and simplest method of gene editing to date.
Pest-resistant lettuce, the elimination of diseases such as cystic fibrosis or anemia –are some choice research topics CRISPR Pioneer Jennifer Doudna shared with Nature when describing how her fellow colleagues are using the technology she helped discover.
“I am excited about the potential for genome engineering to have a positive impact on human life, and on our basic understanding of biological systems,” she expressed.
We couldn’t agree more. Craving more on CRISPR? Check out our CRISPR Genome Editing Playlist.
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