Researchers Discovered New Ways to Edit Genes with CRISPR (Study)

Circular strand of DNA

CRISPR can become more powerful if researchers resort to RNA editing

The gene-editing technology CRISPR puts a bright future ahead of science, as it might be used to edit certain DNA sequences and alleviate diseases which otherwise couldn’t have any cure. Now, researchers have decided to revise the techniques behind this editing mechanism, hoping they might find ways to treat diseases without having to make permanent changes in DNA.

RNA editing can lead to temporary changes in the genes

Their attempts were successful, and they found out what it needs to be done so that DNA doesn’t stay permanently altered. The key lies in RNA, which acts as a messenger for DNA and carries around genetic instructions. Therefore, by editing RNA, the effect can be reversible.

If you put it easily, what CRISPR does is to spot a malfunctioning gene in DNA, and act upon it. With the technology, researchers can either edit it so that it works again, replace it with a normal gene, or even remove it completely. However, this might not always work so swiftly. Blood cells, for instance, are easier to fix, but those which make up muscles or complex organs like the brain are harder to handle. Therefore, opting for the RNA alternative might make these processes easier.

Researchers got inspired from a natural mechanism of gene editing

RNA helps DNA start synthesizing proteins, and it carries the genetic instruction the latter needs for the process. If researchers edit these instructions that RNA carries, they can temporarily edit DNA and the proteins it produces. RNA gradually degrades, so the changes enforced by CRISPR would only last as long as researchers apply this therapy.

Researchers got their inspiration from nature. They looked at a natural system of gene-cutting present in bacteria, which uses the enzyme Cas9 to edit other molecules. They explored the Cas enzyme family and discovered one which can act upon RNA, Cas13. Then, they genetically engineered this Cas13 so that, instead of breaking down the RNA molecules, it attaches to them.

A more detailed explanation of this process has been published in the journal Science.
Image Source: Pixabay

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Deborah Campbell

Deborah Campbell grew up on a steady diet of fantasy stories, 19th century poetry and Greek mythology. It’s no wonder she turned into such a hopeless romantic. She has always had a knack for writing, but she has yet to publish any best-seller yet. At the beginning of 2013 she decided to try something a little different: she started working for a web design firm, as a creative artist. That’s where she discovered her second calling. Although seemingly opposite, fantasy and technology are Deborah’s two main passions. She is now part of the argyllfreepress.com team, for which she creates detailed tutorials & reviews for some of the world’s most exciting gadgets. She also tries to squeeze a verse or two in her reviews from time to time.