After several years of diligent research on a prospective field of bio-engineering, scientists have discovered an entity that might render human genetic modifications safer in the future. Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco have reinvigorated the prospect of genetic inquest by unveiling a protein segment that can activate or deactivate the CRISPR system.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) are brief segments of prokaryotic DNA with intermittent spacer proteins, the chief element of the microorganism’s defense mechanism. CRISPR has arisen due to the clash between bacteria and viruses since the precambrian period, and is the former’s immunity against the latter. During a viral attack, surviving bacteria of a species record the virus properties and produces a spacer protein that is inserted into the CRISPR strand, analogous to an information page in a database.
Should the same bacteriophage interact with the bacterium again, The spacer protein is recovered and an RNA strand synthesized. This RNA serves as an instruction template and identifies which segment of DNA is being hijacked by the virus. The specialized protein CAS9 adheres to the RNA, “snipping” off the segment of viral gene. Without its genetic material intact, the intruder is thwarted.
Only recently has the scientific community recognized the full potential of modifying CRISPR to suit human necessities, but there was a major setback; CAS9 lingered too long within lab sample cells, causing it to splice the wrong DNA segment. This could lead the cell to target its own genome and self-destruct. As such, researchers have concluded that the bacterium must have a certain segment of CRISPR that acts as a “killswitch”, turning CRISPR on and off at will. In order to locate this killswitch, 300 strains of the Listeria Bacterium were thoroughly analyzed for traces of viral infiltration. Those that were exposed to viruses lacked CAS9 after an extended period of time, and from the sample, 4 anti-
CAS9 proteins were proved to have contained the protein thereafter.
With such mechanism undergoing rigorous experimentation, it is probable to assume that CRISPR will be more compatible with human physiology. Some applications include gene editing to build up an immune system to certain pathogens that are immune to obsolete medication or against diseases that have no vaccine. What is more, CRISPR is a continuously developing entity, with no need for annual vaccines against one type of strain.
Other radical suggestions call for a mutant gene to be inserted into the genomes of pests, namely flies and mosquitos, to decimate entire species. The future of CRISPR research is still highly controversial, despite the large strides being made. Many worry that in the wrong hands, this potent tool can modify humans adversely, or perhaps lead to the development of a biological weapon of unprecedented scale and sophistication. In spite of negative feedback, research nonetheless continues, at a pace more fervent than ever before.