Did you know that there are over six thousand genetic disorders? Have you ever wondered whether it was possible to prevent or “cure” a genetic disorder? Well, for the first time in history, a group of scientists have succeeded in editing a dangerous disease-causing mutation out of human embryos.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a new(ish) technology that is used for knocking out human genes in cell lines for the purpose of seeing what these genes do. CRISPR-Cas9 has a “protein scissor”, the cas-9 protein, and a location that shows the cas9 where to bind to. The “location” is actually a strand of RNA that is complementary to a specific strand of DNA. This RNA strand is like glue in that it binds to the DNA and allows the Cas9 to cut the DNA. This process or the CRISPR-Cas9 technology is like an endless cycle of cutting and repairing DNA until the repair enzyme can no longer repair the DNA or makes a mistake. This technology can make the process of cutting and disabling genes five times faster. It allows scientists to edit parts of a genome by altering, removing, or adding certain sections of DNA. While this technology can be very useful in trying to understand what genes do it does have a downside, “these approaches are costly and time-consuming to engineer, limiting their widespread use, particularly for large scale, high-throughput studies.” The picture below shows what this process looks like on a very basic scale. Hopefully this technology will eventually allow us to fully understand what every gene does.
Since the relatively recent discovery of CRISPR-Cas9, scientists have explored multiple uses of this new technology, from eliminating a patient’s cancer to making super plants, furthering our understanding of DNA and how it works. CRISPR-Cas9 has become the most advanced and efficient gene-editing tool there is. However, thus far, its use has been largely limited to silencing protein-coding genes in the DNA. This leaves out what’s called the DNA “dark matter” — the non-coding DNA that covers about 99 percent of our genetic code. That’s about to change; this article from Futurism explains how a recent study from PLOS Computational Biology is creating a new technique, based on CRISPR, but delving deeper into this unexplored territory.
This brand-new software technology called CRISPETa evolved from a breakthrough tool (which uses CRISPR-Cas9) called DECKO. DECKO was designed for deleting pieces of non-coding DNA using two sgRNAs as molecular scissors. While the concept might seem simple, designing deletion experiments using DECKO was time-consuming due to the lack of software to create the required sgRNAs.
This is where the new tool, CRISPETa, comes in. According to the report, users can tell CRISPETa which region of DNA they wish to delete. The software then generates a pair of optimized sgRNAs that can be used directly for that experiment. Pulido, leader of the research team, stated that “We hope that this new software tool will allow the greatest possible number of researchers to harness the power of CRISPR deletion in their research.”
The software has already demonstrated its efficiency in deleting desired targets in human cells. The research team hopes that its use will go beyond a basic research tool, and be utilized as “a powerful therapeutic to reverse disease-causing mutations,” Johnson added. Herein lies the hidden value of CRISPR-Cas9 and all further developments from it: The more we understand DNA and genomics, the better we will be able to fight diseases and other aspects of human life that cause harm, ultimately leading to a higher quality of life for all.
There has been an abundance of research using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to search for a cure for HIV. The HIV virus enters immune cells and uses the host cell’s method of replication to replicate the viral genome. With CRISPR/Cas9, specific mutations can be introduced in order to make it more challenging for the HIV virus to enter Helper T-Cells. Guided by specific strands of RNA, the Cas9 enzyme can cut a particular piece of the viral genome out, rendering it useless.
When a team of researchers at McGill University attempted to use the CRISPR method to disable the HIV viral genome, they found a major roadblock. Two weeks after the CRISPR/Cas9 treatment, the host cells appeared to be creating copies of the virus. This may be attributed to an error in the enzymes that copy the viral DNA, causing a change in the genome, and a mutation that allows it to evade the CRISPR treatment. However, the McGill researchers believe that this mutation was a result of the CRISPR treatment itself.
After DNA is cut by the Cas9 enzyme, the host cell usually attempts to repair the damage. Occasionally, this results in the addition or deletion of a few nitrogenous bases. While these changes usually result in the inactivation of the cut gene, sometimes they don’t. The active cut DNA is no longer recognized by the machinery used to prevent HIV infection of the cell, and the mutated viral genome is resistant to the usual methods of disablement.
More researchers at the University of Amsterdam had similar results in their research. While it is not that surprising that HIV can overcome the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing at some point, the leader of the research (Atze Das) said “What is surprising is the speed- how fast it goes”.
If CRISPR was used at the same time as HIV-attacking drugs (inhibitors of protease, reverse transcriptase, and integrase), perhaps the mutations would be less detrimental. This roadblock does not mean that a CRISPR cure for HIV is impossible, but it does make it far more challenging to overcome.
Crispr-Cas9 is a genome editing tool that is creating a whole lot of buzz in the science world. It is the newest faster, cheaper and more accurate way of editing DNA. Crispr- Cas9 also has a wide range of potential applications. It is a unique technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by cutting out, replacing or adding parts to the DNA sequence. The CRISPR-Cas9 system consists of two key molecules that introduce a mutation into the DNA. The first Molecule is an enzyme called Cas9. Cas9 acts as a pair of scissors that can cut the two strands of DNA at a specific location in the genome so that bits of DNA can be added or removed. The second is a piece of RNA called guide RNA or gRNA. This consists of a small piece of pre-designed RNA sequence located within a longer RNA scaffold. The scaffold part binds to DNA and the pre-designed sequence guides Cas9 to the right part of the genome. This makes sure that the Cas9 enzyme cuts at the right point in the genome.
CRISPR-Cas9 is efficient compared to previous gene-editing techniques, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. CRISPR is less efficient when employing the cellular process of homology-directed DNA repair, or HDR, as opposed to nonhomologous end joining. Jacob Corn, the scientific director of the Innovative Genomics Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues have come up with a way to improve the success rate of homology-directed repair following CRISPR-Cas9. “We have found that Cas9-mediated HDR frequencies can be increased by rationally designing the orientation, polarity and length of the donor ssDNA to match the properties of the Cas9-DNA complex,” the researchers wrote in their paper, “We also found that these donor designs, when paired with tiled catalytically inactive dCas9 molecules, can stimulate HDR to approximately 1%, almost 50-fold greater than donor alone.”
“Our data indicate that Cas9 breaks could be different at a molecular level from breaks generated by other targeted nucleases, such as TALENS and zinc-finger nucleases, which suggests that strategies like the ones we are using can give you more efficient repair of Cas9 breaks,” coauthor Christopher Richardson, a postdoc in Corn’s lab, said in a statement.
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This sequel to GATTACA is to be released shortly, and this time, they’re transcending the movie screen and bringing the experience to reality!
Crispr-Cas9 is a fairly recent DNA-editing technique that has been developed, and allows for extremely easy and precise gene editing, a development said to be at least on par with PCR for bio engineering. In many ways, this is great. Now biologists won’t have to spend the time nor undergo the difficulty of creating variant DNA through old methods, meaning that all these cool genetic breakthroughs should be happening at an unprecedented pace! The problem is, it may be going too fast for humans to wrap their head around.
Similar to the ethical questions raised by the film GATTACA, countries and scientists are debating what regulations should be put on this new and powerful tool. With Crispr-Cas9, the possibility to genetically modify humans becomes a very real option to consider. Scientists could remove DNA sequences which lead to defects and diseases such as albinism and Huntington’s Disease. Or anything else, really.
(The miracle protein)
The main point of Crispr-Cas9 is not necessarily the ability it gives to scientists to easily modify DNA, but the increased rate at which we can understand what specific sequences of DNA do by altering them. Not only are we more able to modify DNA, we are now able to figure it out at breakneck speed.
Where it gets complex is, as always, how humans deal with it. Some people, such as Mark Leach, whose daughter has down-syndrome, believes that children with disabilities not only are still able to live rich lives, but also teach others to be more compassionate. Although debating if I would choose to let my child have down-syndrome or not for that reason seems like an absurd consideration, and most likely a coping mechanism, the point still stands that some people are uneasy with fixing genetic-related problems because “they wouldn’t be the same person.” (That’s the point!)
People are really afraid of change, aren’t they?
However, for those on the more lethal/completely disabling part of the genetic spectrum, the answer is more than clear. Charles Sabine, the brother of the renown British lawyer John Sabine, who both have Huntington’s Disease at varying stages, says “If there was a room somewhere where someone said, ‘Look, you can go in there and have your DNA changed,’ I would be there breaking the door down.” Similarly, Matt Wilsey, a parent of a child with a terminal genetic illness, is awestruck at the ridiculousness of the situation: “As a parent with an incredibly sick child, what are we supposed to do — sit by on the sidelines while my child dies?” The oddity of the situation is, we have the capability to start figuring out how to solve these genetic issues with a very effective and efficient technique, it’s just that humans are riding the brakes, trying to slow down the almost inexorable progress of the freight train that is Crispr-Cas9. The irony is that many are afraid with tampering with the “sanctity” of human embryos. I would agree, except that humans defile it all the time. Birth defects, genetic diseases, miscarriages, etc. Of course, this is not intentional, but the parents have the largest hand in these outcomes, as they provide all the material,genetic and otherwise, to create the embryo, fetus, and eventually child. We are already making horrible mistakes with human embryo’s that cripple or kill the resulting child through the natural birth process. Personally, I would go off of this to say we should at least learn from this, so we could eventually progress far enough to prevent these things from ever happening, but I only ask all of the readers to keep this in mind: Nature (very badly) screws up too.
(The process Cas9 facilitates)
I’m not saying that we should be careless with this new and potentially dangerous or aberrant-spawning technology, but I think it’s time that humans come to terms with the fact that their world, and their lives, are entering a new era of existence. For millennia, structured humans have lived in a world where the outside world is the only thing we can manipulate, but now the very structure and formation of ourselves as well. I understand that such a change from a thousands-year-running viewpoint can be hard to make. We’ve never had to think about these things before as a species, because it wasn’t understood and out of our reach. It is daunting. It is terrifying. Only because it is unknown. But how are we to learn, to benefit, from this great potential, if we are too afraid to explore it? I understand that like any form of potential, it can go either way, but this is a great new time of possibilities that simply won’t go away, but reemerge constantly.
I think it’s time we gathered the courage to face it.
There have been some very exciting, recent biological findings involving gene editing. The CRISPR-Cas9 findings allow for the exact and purposeful changes to the genome of a cell. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and it is used in bacteria and archaea as a way to protect the bacteria from intruding genetic material. Essentially, CRISPR is used to remove a faulty gene and put another in its place. This is exciting because in humans, this technology could be used to remove extremely harmful DNA from our bodies, only to be replaced by healthy DNA. This method could then be used to cure cancer. In fact, another genome editing technology, called TALEN, was actually used to cure an 11 month old girl named Layla who had what doctors thought was an untreatable form of leukemia. Described as “biological scissors”, doctors editing genes in cells in the immune system. The new genes then hunted down the dangerous red blood cells that were putting Layla’s life at risk. What is so exciting about CRISPR, however, is that unlike TALENS, which used proteins to edit genes in a very time consuming process, CRISPR uses nucleic acids such as RNA, which are significantly easier to use. Ultimately, these findings should bring a lot of good to the world and are a promising step towards curing cancer and other dangerous diseases.Image creator unknown. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CRISPR-Cas9_mode_of_action.png
CRISPR-Cas9 is an emerging technology in the field of genetics that has opened an incredible number of doors and revolutionized the field. It permanently changes the genome of cells while they are alive. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. This sounds confusing but the actual technology is simple. Feng Zhang uses the analogy of proofreading a book to explain it.Let us say you are proofreading your novel and you find the phrase “twinkle twinkle big star”. Now you want to change it to “twinkle twinkle little star”. In this scenario, the words are base pairs and the change from “little” to “big” is a mutation. You can not just delete “big” or just “add” little you must do both. And that is what CRISPR does. It uses an enzyme to cut the DNA and silences that gene. It also can do the opposite and activate certain genes.
A diagram of how CRISPR works
This precise controls of genes have allow scientists to do research faster and cheaper. Its applications go beyond just research however. This technology can be used to treat certain genetic mutations by correcting the incorrect base pairs accurately.
Link to article:
The CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system has transformed into an even better version of itself. A new, elegant technique, coined by researches at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, has resolved one of the most reoccurring technical issues in genome editing.
Primarily, the CRISPR-Cas9 system works to specifically modify a cell’s DNA. CRISPR is dependent on protein Cas9, as it is specialized for cutting DNA. The DNA, at a location identified by a RNA’s sequence matching the target site, is altered by Cas9. Though it very efficient at cutting its target sites, there is a large complication in the process. Once the Cas9 is inside the cell, it can also bind and cut additional sites that are not targeted. Because of this, undesired edits are produced which can alter gene expression or kill off a gene completely. These setbacks can lead to cancer or other problems. Feng Zhang, along with his colleagues at MIT, reported that by just changing 3 out of the approximately 1,400 amino acids composing the Cas9 enzyme from S. pyogenes, a considerable reduction of “off-target editing” to undetectable levels are observed.
This newfound information was derived from studying the structure of the Cas9 protein. Since DNA is negatively charged, it binds to a positively charged groove in the Cas9 protein. The scientists predicted that by replacing some of the positively charged amino acids with a neutral charge, there would be a decrease in binding to “off target” sequences than to “on target” sequences. By mutating three amino acids, their technique proved to be successful.
The team is calling this newly-engineered enzyme “enhanced S. pyogenes Cas9” or “eSpCas9.” It’ll be particularly useful for genome editing that requires precise specificity and it is said to be available for researches worldwide.
I believe that this newfound resolution for the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing hurtle is a huge game changer. This charge-changing approach might also be able to be used for other experiments involving RNA-guided DNA targeting enzymes. Ethical and societal concerns have also risen due to the idea of rapid and efficient genome editing. The eSpCas9 is highly beneficial in the scientific community, however there is a lot more research needed to be done in order to be used clinically.
Original article can be found here.