CRISPR/Cas9 is currently being researched as a method to alter genes by editing or silencing them. This enzyme is derived from bacteria and archaea that use it to protect themselves from viruses. Researchers are currently finding more practical applications for this discovery. However, it has been recently been found that nucleosomes may play a large effect on CRISPR.
At UC Berkeley, researchers have been studying the interaction of these prokaryotic enzymes with eukaryotic cells. They have found that nucleosomes may inhibit CRISPR/Cas9. Because bacteria likely do not use this enzyme to explore eukaryotic chromatin structures, their enzymes are not adapted to these types of structures. This is seen by many of the researchers’ experiments where stretches of DNA with low concentrations of nucleosomes had higher activity of CRISPR while others stretches with high concentrations of nucleosomes had lower activity. Scientists have also added chromatin remodeling enzymes while using CRISPR and found higher activity.
This has a few implications on the usage of the enzyme. While gene editing may be less influenced because only one cut is needed to introduce a sequence, scientists should take nucleosome concentration into account in gene silencing and epigenetic editing. CRISPR/Cas9 is an amazing discovery for genetics but we still have much to learn about how it works and how we can use it.