Ever since the development of the revolutionary gene editing tool, the CRISPR-Cas9 system, the field of biomedical research has completely changed. Now, scientists can more easily study important genes by using the CRISPR-Cas9 system to mutate or delete the genes, and then observing the downstream effects. Recently, researchers from John Hopkins University developed a newly improved gene editing tool: a very fast CRISPR-Cas9 system (vfCRISPR). This new system, as the name suggests, is extremely fast — instead of the usual few hours that the conventional CRISPR-Cas9 system takes, it allows genes to be edited within just a few seconds! 

The conventional CRISPR-Cas9 system works in two parts: (1) a molecule called the gRNA that acts as a guide to find and bind to the region of DNA that we want to cut, and (2) an enzyme called Cas9 that would cut the DNA at that location. The first step is the slowest step of the whole system; scientists typically had to wait a few hours for the system to find the correct region of DNA. However, Liu and colleagues modified this system by incorporating light-sensitive molecules into the gRNA. This forces the gRNA to only partially bind to the target DNA region, which also prevents Cas9 from cutting the DNA. When light is shined on the system, the light-sensitive molecules are removed, allowing the gRNA to fully bind to the DNA, and, subsequently, Cas9 to cut the DNA. Because the system is already partially bound to the target DNA region when this happens, the first slow step is skipped and the target DNA can be cut almost immediately. Indeed, the team was able to show that vfCRISPR can successfully cut more than 50 percent of all target DNA in a cell within just 30 seconds upon light activation.

Currently, the conventional CRISPR-Cas9 system only allows DNA to be cut and edited within the span of a few hours. Therefore, vfCRISPR will enable scientists to study certain genes and their effects in a far more precise manner. For example, in this study, Liu and colleagues used vfCRISPR to observe, in real time, cells’ immediate response to the cutting of the target DNA. This new system may possibly be the next revolutionary gene editing tool that will change the field of biomedical research yet again.

Managing Correspondent: Wei Li

Press Article: Light-activated ‘CRISPR’ triggers precision gene editing and super-fast DNA repair. ScienceDaily.

Speedy Cuts: CRISPR On-Demand Method Developed. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

Original Scientific Article: Very fast CRISPR on demand. Science.

Watch the video on vfCRISPR: Very Fast CRISPR On Demand.

Single Allele | Very Fast CRISPR On Demand.

Learn more about CRISPR-Cas9: CRISPR: A game changing genetic engineering technique

Image Credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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