Breakthrough in CRISPR Technology

A Breakthrough Step to a More Accurate and Targeted Use of the CRISPR Gene Editing Tool

Despite the many revolutionary breakthroughs that scientists have obtained with the CRISPR gene editing tool, there have been many difficulties when it came to limiting its reach and preventing accidental gene alteration. This is about to change due to a new discovery in the field of genetic engineering put forth by the scientists at the University of California in San Francisco.

An Introduction to the CRISPR Tool

The technique itself is groundbreaking, especially due to the results it promises: blocking the effects of powerful gene-editing tools with regards to the accidental change of adjacent genes. The experts at UC have, therefore, put Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) back on the map when it comes to its future use as one of the most promising tools in the genetics lab.

What makes CRISPR/Cas9 – as it is known by its complete name – an extremely helpful tool for gene editing is the regular patterning that it features as a repeating DNA sequence. First seen in the E.Coli bacteria, CRISPR is one in a long line of fascinating repeating sequences found in various other simple bacteria and other organisms; however, its unique make up has allowed UC Berkeley scientists to perfect CRISPR as a highly targeted gene editing tool.

In 2012, UC researchers have found that they could extract the sequences in simple organisms to create the CRISPR/Cas tool. The basic idea was to use a Cas protein known as Cas9, which is able to help with unwinding DNA, along with hybrid RNA.

Not only can the system be adjusted to find, cut and replaced genes, but it is much more convenient and straightforward than previous gene editing techniques. Still, despite the remarkable results that it displayed, CRISPR remained somewhat unrefined, as scientists were previously unable to prevent it from modifying adjacent cells, which often led to unwanted outcomes.

Improving CRISPR’s Targeting System

One of the key drawbacks of CRISPR is its unrefined accuracy, which allowed many scientists in the past to doubt its potential and even speak against genetic engineering as a whole. Whenever an experiment created unforeseen results because of this drawback, it had given naysayers a chance to attack the new technology, reinforcing their doubts about the possible future use of gene editing on the human genome.

With the help of UC San Francisco researchers, CRISPR’s ability of modifying crops, viruses and animal cells can be further improved due to a discovery that shows how certain special proteins may be able to protect nearby cells that would otherwise be affected by the CRISPR tool.

The new inhibitors would set in place a mechanism that can effectively block any unwanted results in CRISPR applications and prevent the misuse of the tool. According to Joseph Bondy-Denomy, one of the UC researchers, this will effectively make CRISPR a far more safe and dependable gene editing method in future years.

The team studied various strains of Listeria, and managed to find the correct protein for blocking CRISPR most efficiently. This is considered one of the greatest steps forward made by any research team studying the improvement of the CRISPR technique, and it could also be one of the first steps toward heralding the use of the gene editing tool for human genome editing.