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.