Crop Biotech Update

Researchers Resurrect CRISPR's 2.6 Billion-Year-Old Ancestors

January 11, 2023

An image of Cas9 enzyme acting on the target DNA. Photo Source: Antonio Reifs/CIC nanoGUNE

For the first time, an international research group has reconstructed the ancestors of the well-known CRISPR-Cas system dating back 2.6 billion years and studied their evolution over time. Led by Ikerbasque research professor Rául Pérez-Jiménez of CIC nanoGUNE, the researchers find that the revitalized systems not only work but are more versatile than current versions.

The research team considers their findings "open new avenues for gene editing." The Nanobiotechnology group at nanoGUNE has spent years studying the evolution of proteins from the origin of life to the present day. They do ancestral reconstructions of proteins and genes from extinct organisms to see their qualities and whether they can be used in biotechnological applications. Their work, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, reconstructs the evolutionary history of CRISPR-Cas systems for the first time, from ancestors dating back 2.6 billion years to the present day.

The research team performed the computational reconstruction of the ancestral CRISPR sequences, synthesized them, and studied and confirmed their functionality. Lluís Montoliu, a researcher at the National Biotechnology Center of the CSIC (CNB-CSIC) and CIBERER, said they found that they can revitalize Cas proteins that must have existed billions of years ago and find that they already had the capacity then to operate as gene editing tools. Another interesting finding in the study is that the CRISPR-Cas system has gradually become more complex over time, an indication of the adaptive nature of the system.

For more details, read the article on the CIC nanoGUNE website.

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