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Researchers Discover CRISPR-Cas9 Gene-Editing System

First Posted: Dec 30, 2016 11:01 AM EST
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A weapon that viruses use to fight bacteria was found to be useful in shutting down the world's most powerful gene-editing tool. The said weapon is called the CRISPR-Cas9 which can snip the wrong genes and at the same time introduces runaway genetic changes into humans and other species.

Researchers from California have recently discovered a way to switch off the widely used of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system through the use of the newly identified anti-CRISPR proteins which are produced by bacterial viruses.

According to University of California San Francisco, the newly discovered technique has the ability and potential to improve the safety as well as the accuracy of CRISPR applications in the clinic and for basic research.

The new study that Benjamin Rauch a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of Joseph Bondy-Denomy and his team made was published in Cell on Dec. 29, 2016. The said CRISPR-Cas9 has evolved in bacteria as an immune system for protection against any viral infection.

However, researchers and the general public see it as a general-use gene editing system which enables scientists to efficiently and quickly alter genetic information or tweak a gene activity in any organism.

According to PHYS, the CRISPR-Cas9 is considered as a powerful tool in the bacterial immune defense against the invading viruses. Bacteria mobilize a sequence of DNA called CRISPR the moment viruses infiltrates a bacteria cell.

CRISPR system could be used for any gene-editing technique. Doctors can edit human immune cells to identify cancer cells and inject those cells back into the patient as a cancer treatment. Researchers in China, on the other hand, used this CRISPR system to edit human embryos with serious genetic problems.

"This is essentially unleashing bioterror on an organism which could have good, bad or completely unpredictable consequences. So these anti-CRISPR proteins could be a handy off switch or control mechanism to use in case such species-wide engineering needs to be reined in," study author Bondy-Denomy said.

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