We have seen several uses of CRISPR gene editing such as accurate cutting and pasting of specific genes in DNA. Scientists have now developed a technique which makes it possible to edit several hundreds of genes at once. This would be very beneficial to the scientists who can reprogram cells in a larger and complex manner thus assisting in the study of genetic disorders.
CRISPR could mostly edit one gene at a time. As per the latest study, the new technique can hit 25 targets within genes at once. Biochemist Randall Platt, ETH Zurich said that this technique makes it possible to modify entire gene networks in one step which was not even thought in the past. The work has been published in the journal Nature Methods.
The key to this process is a plasmid, a stabilised RNA structure that can hold and process several RNA molecules. These act as address labels for targeting gene sites. Along with the RNA molecules the plasmid also carries Cas9 enzyme which performs the main cutting and binding job. Cas9 has been mainly used although here Cas12a is used which improves the accuracy of CRISPR editing. Researchers were able to insert this plasmid into human cells in the laboratory. Hence it enables scientists to make gene editing at scale. It can be quite tiring to make a single change at one time as proteins, genes act in complex manners. Operations such as increasing and decreasing the gene activities can be done with greater precision.
However, this also means that we would be moving in uncharted territories as we do not know the effects of this simultaneous change in the body of the organism. There might be secondary changes which are not expected thus increasing the risk of gene editing.
Researchers mention that direct repeat sequences and pacers which possess the complementary sequences could create secondary RNA structures which can affect the maturation of the CRISPR RNAs present in the cells. As a result of which, it is essential to consider the complementary regions in pre-CRISPR RNA so as to improve the maturation of CRISPR RNA. Research overcoming these limitations would create several applications for genome engineering.
CRISPR has been already used in eliminating genes responsible for diseases and killing the superbugs. There is a whole range of applications awaiting as researchers now have better toolkit at their disposal. Therefore this technique creates a platform in which different types of investigation related to genetic programs affecting the cell behaviour can be carried out.
Journal Reference: Nature Methods