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New Software Simplifies CRISPR Methodology For Gene Editing

5 January 2017, 4:48 am EST By Katrina Pascual Tech Times
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What is gene editing?
CRISPR, a form of “genetic engineering scissors,” is a bacterial protein-derived innovation that lets scientists cut and paste certain portions of DNA.   ( Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff at the European Bioinformatics Institute )

The year 2016 was big CRISPR technology, showing how it can do a wealth of things from helping treat hemophilia in mice to creating mushrooms that do not easily brown. It promises to do more down the road, as a new web-based software can make the gene editing methodology easier.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden recently published the software called Green Listed in the journal Bioinformatics. It is available for free at GreenListed.cmm.ki.se, which also contains information texts and films, for non-profit and academic use. They generated this software to facilitate the use of CRISPR-Cas9.

Why CRISPR Matters

CRISPR — deemed a form of “genetic engineering scissors” — is a bacterial protein-derived innovation that lets scientists cut and paste certain portions of DNA. It is used for rapidly studying how various sections of DNA affect cells directly, lending insight to researchers on the cause and potential treatment of diseases.

Chinese scientists, for instance, have started testing genetically altered cells on lung cancer patients and editing human embryonic genes to help make them resistant to HIV infections.

"We use the CRISPR methodology to study both immune cells and cancer cells. The goal is to develop new treatments for patients with diseases related to the immune system, such as arthritis, as well as cancer,” said Fredrik Wermeling of Karolinska Institutet in a statement.

The new software facilitates a type of large-scale research that allows and simplifies in-parallel study of various parts of the DNA simultaneously, a powerful way to use the CRISPR method. It lets scientists in-parallel alter a huge amount of selected parts of the DNA of isolated cells.

To better understand the methodology, Wermeling suggests likening DNA to a cookbook, but carries cells instead of food recipes inside. Expect changes in the end product if one changes a tablespoon of sugar to a tablespoon of salt – same as the onset of diseases due to altered cells in the DNA of the affected patient.

“With the CRISPR method, we can quickly make such changes in individual isolated cells and thereby learn about the diseases we study," Fredrik concluded.

What Makes It So Revolutionary?

While gene editing is no longer anything new, CRISPR emerges as a game changer because of its extreme precision, with the Cas9 enzyme mostly going wherever it is told to go. The affordable cost is another factor, it might cost just $75 and only take a few hours, explained the Genetic Literacy Project.

Research and techniques on the technology have also been accelerated in recent years. In 2011, fewer than 100 papers were published on CRISPR. Last year, there were over 1,000 and counting, with brand-new refinements for manipulating genes and enhancing precision.

A new study found that there’s also a way to turn off CRISPR — a discovery made by going over the same bacteria and viruses that led to the gene editing system’s development in the first place.

Anti-CRISPR proteins identified are the first to directly work against the CRISPR-Cas9 system that is most commonly used in laboratories today.

Should anything untoward happen during the course of intentional gene editing, these anti-CRISPR proteins can be used to halt the system and create safeguards for safely exploring the technology and avoiding accidental or intentional harm.

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