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CRISPR, the Gene Scissors

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What is exactly the CRISPR

The DNA is the basic structure in our bodies that defines you and me, can you imagine how it could be to edit it? It may sound like a sci-fi technology, but in fact, it is real.

The DNA (Fig. 1) is a complex molecule that guides the generation development function and reproduction of everything alive. Information of our bodies is encoded in the structure of that molecule, in which four nucleotides are paired and make up a code that carries instructions.

By changing that structure, we can modify the being carrying it. In 2007, a paper on the first experimental proof that “CRISPR” can be used as an adaptive immune device had been published. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

So far, it has been taken into consideration as a mechanism (Fig. 2) that permits cells to record, over time, the viruses that they’ve been exposed to.

Figure 1 The DNA primary structure. Nucleotide base pairs are the basic blocks of the DNA helix, which constitute the Chromosomes inside the cells’ nuclei. DNA gives instructions to cells on how to manage their processes. Photo Credit: Terese Winslow LLC, US Gov. 2015.

How does it work?

When a virus infects a cell, it injects its DNA. And in a bacterium, the CRISPR system allows that DNA to be plucked out of the virus and inserted slightly into the chromosomes of the bacterium. Once this is carried out, the cell makes a copy of a molecule known as RNA – a chemical cousin of DNA, that’s a true mirror of the viral DNA.

Then the pieces of RNA from CRISPR bind to a protein called CAS9,that acts as a sentinel within the cell so that it searches through all the DNA within the cell to locate sequences that match those in the bound RNAs. When those sites are determined, the CAS9 cleverly breaks up the viral DNA.

More importantly, those bits of DNA are passed directly to the cells’ progeny, so cells are protected from viruses not only in a single generation but over many generations of cells.

CRISPRs have been first discovered in archaea, and later in a microorganism, with the aid of Francisco Mojica, a scientist at the University of Alicante in Spain. He suggested that CRISPR could work as a part of the bacterial immune system, defending against invading viruses.

Then the Geneticist Jennifer Doudna co-invented, with Emmanuelle Charpentier, a groundbreaking new technology for modifying genes, known as CRISPR-CAS9, by re-engineering the CAS9 protein into a more practical system that would locate and cut the DNA target specified with the aid of the guide RNA.

Figure 2 The CRISPR mechanism and how to cut the DNA using the CAS9 protein. Photo Credit: THE SCIENTIST STAFF.


Genetic engineering in nowadays

Researchers found out that the CRISPR system is programmable, simply through giving it a duplicate of DNA we need to alter and placed the system into a living cell. In the past, the genetic engineering was costly due to undeveloped technologies and limited resources, and overnight, the costs of construction have shrunk by 99% with the discovery of CRISPR.

It is hard to get across how big a technical revolution CRISPR is; it has the potential to change humanity forever through ending genetic diseases, designer babies, and maybe eternal youth.

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Kostas Deroukakis
Love to search, to try, to give, to learn. Knowledge, is the road for this achievement
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