CRISPR 2.0 is causing quite the ruckus in the scientific community. Why? Imagine that you had written a note in permanent marker, but later decided you wanted to change a single word. Without the ability to erase, your options would be limited, and further changes might make the note illegible. New CRISPR technologies, or “base editors,” behave as molecular erasers. These molecular erasers enable you to very precisely erase and change individual letters and words, while keeping the rest of the note legible.
Each cell in the body has a genetic code that serves as a set of instructions. This genetic code is made up of four nucleotide bases or “letters” – A, C, T, and G. These letters come together to form molecules called DNA. Before the invention of the base editor, in order to make a single base change in the code (for instance, to change a C to a T), it was necessary to first cut the DNA. However, cutting DNA can be messy, resulting in the random insertion and deletion of bases, which can turn the genetic code into garbled nonsense. With the new CRISPR base editor technology, the DNA does not have to be fully cut, permitting single base changes to be made precisely, while avoiding unintended consequences.
The development of DNA base editors holds promise for novel forms of gene therapy. Many diseases are caused by single base mutations in DNA. The ability to quickly and precisely modify single base pairs will almost certainly accelerate the pace of genetic research.
Original scientific articles:
Programmable base editing of AT to GC in genomic DNA without DNA cleavage – Nature
RNA editing with CRISPR-Cas13 – Science
Managing correspondent: Radhika Agarwal