Picking habits-Gene editing

I had been sitting on that bus for a bit too long now. My destination finally arrived and I got off the bus. Surprisingly the bus didn’t quite get off my mind. I could still hear the loud chatter of a family sitting behind my seat. They were talking in a dialect new to me, hence grabbed my attention to an extent that when I reached home, I was enacting the dialect. We had fun picking the weirdness of the dialect. A few days later, I realized I have literally picked up that dialect and have been talking like that for the past few days now. It took some hard work to get that off my mind and eventually tongue.

It is quite interesting to know that, the above-mentioned incident of picking up the habit is, in fact, the impenetrable immune system of a bacterial system. The same immune system has enabled us with the technology of near accurate gene editing, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, widely known as CRISPR.

When a virus infects a bacterium, it releases its genome into a bacterium. This foreign genetic information gets recognized by a set of proteins expressed by bacteria, called Cas Proteins. The viral genetic information is then added to a bacterial genome with a tag to identify it as foreign information. The tag added is essentially a regularly interspaced palindromic sequence generated by bacteria. This way bacterial system recognizes the innate and foreign genetic information.

Using this simplistic mechanism, scientists have developed a powerful gene-editing technology. Starter package required for gene editing has become much easier to develop, we need an RNA sequence to correct/add genetic information, set of Cas proteins to cleave and ligate DNA ends. The most fascinating point of this system is, that it can be used on live cells.

With wide application possibilities, there are also chances of the same being misused for designing harmful genomes to develop bio-weapons and designer babies. The extent of using CRISPR based gene-editing system is being debated at the global level.

However, with appropriate regulations and governance, the system will prove to be a powerful tool. CRISPR-Cas system is being applied to devise therapeutic options, prevent diseases and develop better-equipped plant species. 

Kalpshree Gogte

Kalpshree is currently working as a cancer drug discovery researcher at University of Sussex, Brighton. A native of Indore, India. An avid reader and Science communication enthusiast.


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