Mr. Owl ate my metal worm

Blog entry

Mr. Owl ate my metal worm. Edit DNA and tide. Nadia, Aidan. Yo Dad, oy! Racecar. Bob.

Why am I doing this? Nope, I’m not having a stroke, but trying my hand at palindromes (it’s harder than it looks!).  Palindromes are words, phrases and even sentences that read the same backward and forward. The same goes for DNA nucleotide sequences and those palindromes have been shown to be quite useful for editing our genome.

Heralded as one of the greatest breakthroughs in personalized medicine and molecular biology as a whole, CRISPR technology is fast taking a stronghold in labs across the planet. Short for (pause for dramatic effect) Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, CRISPR gene editing is a new tool that allows a researcher to pinpoint where to make an edit to a DNA strand. And with 20,000 genes spread out over 3,234.83 Mb (Mega-base pairs) in the human genome… that’s roughly 3,234,839,000 base pairs. So, the ability to target a single, I REPEAT… SINGLE base pair to edit, is how shall we say? Yuuuuuuuuge! Bigly, even.

So… what is it?  The CRISPR palindromes are found in bacteria but they didn’t start there. Whenever a virus attacks a bacterium, the bacterium (if it survives) takes a snippet of the viral DNA and incorporates it into its genome. That way, the bacteria can enjoy immunity from the offending virus and its relatives. It’s essentially an integral part of the bacterial immune system.  And, dear reader, this forms the basis of the CRISPR/Cas9 technology that will have us beating diseases by the fistful.

Ok, now for the part that gives me brain pains: How does this technology work? Cas9 is a bacterial endonuclease (an enzyme that cuts DNA) that is closely associated with CRISPR. This Cas9 protein “memorizes” the viral DNA snippet and the bacterium uses it to invade and cut the viral DNA. Modifications to this system for gene editing include the addition of a guide RNA. This guide RNA recognizes specific DNA sequences and is what allows the system to pinpoint where in the genome the gene edit is about to happen. For those of you who love alphabet soup, we now have CRISPR/Cas9-gRNA complex. Still with me? Good. Say you want to knock in a gene so you can find your cells in a transplant model. We’ll go with an old friend, GFP. Using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, you can put that GFP gene anywhere you want. Why is this cool? Well, traditional methods come with the risk of not knowing how many copies or where your GFP was inserted. What if you disrupted a critically important gene? Then you get a dead cell. Not very good for publishing. Now we literally can say “You know what? I want one copy of that GFP gene. There… Right. There!”

In all, this technology is as promising as it gets. We as scientists, educators, and suppliers (Yeah. Us too!) have the duty to use it responsibly and ethically. Time will tell if this translates into bona fide therapies. But first, there’s got to be a ton of research done. That’s where Gemini’s uber-smart, talented, quality-lovin’ customers come in. You all are at the cutting edge of this technology and could be on to the next big breakthrough. Just be sure to put us in your Materials and Methods! We love shameless plugs!

In the meantime, I’ll just continue to have fun reading about it and hoping they get good enough at it to get me those gills I’ve wanted since I was 5.


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