Crop Biotech Update

New Research Could Fine-tune CRISPR

December 5, 2018

As researchers and scientists use the tool CRISPR to correct genetic errors, they are aware that it may have side effects on the human genome. Now, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have learned how the molecular machinery behind CRISPR works and thus, expect to be able to fine-tune CRISPR and remove the undesired effects.

In a new study published in Cell, researchers from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research described how one of the CRISPR technologies, Cas12a, works all the way down to the molecular level, making it possible to fine-tune the gene-editing process. The researchers mapped the technology and took photographs of the different shapes of the molecule when CRISPR-Cas12a cuts up the DNA strand. They combined it with a technique called ‘single molecule FRET' that directly observes the motions of the molecules and the sequence of events for each individual protein. This sequence of events revealed that three "pieces" of the CRISPR tool must change form for the DNA to be cut properly.

The researchers said that their findings can explain why CRISPR can have side effects on the genome. Once the DNA strand has been cut, the three ‘security checks' remain open, which make the process last longer than wanted, because the machinery behind gene editing continues to run and can cause genetic changes. The researchers expect their new knowledge to put an end to this, and fine-tune the gene-editing technology right away.

For more details, read the news article from the University of Copenhagen.