Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around a “new” tool that scientists have found to perform genetic manipulation that is referred to as CRISPR/Cas. The ability to edit DNA has been available for quite some time, so what makes this method special? The answer lies in what it is and how well it works.
What Is CRISPR?
CRISPR is an acronym that stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” It is not actually a technology; it is a natural DNA sequence found in bacteria. So why do we care about bacterial DNA? What scientists have discovered is that there is a part of the bacterial DNA where DNA sequences would show up over and over and, in between those duplicate sequences, there were more unique sequences that matched the viruses that the bacteria had run into in the past. The bacteria use those unique sequences to identify the viruses that are a threat so they can defend themselves much like an immune system.
What Is Cas?
The bacteria use the unique DNA in the CRISPR area to identify these viral threats, but how does that help? The answer is Cas, which stands for CRISPR-associated proteins. These enzymes are the actual “weapon” the bacteria use to attack the viruses and chop them up. So, what happens is these Cas enzymes get loaded with this specific information about a virus located in the CRISPR area and then float around the bacterial cell until they run into a virus with a matching viral sequence. It then attaches to and cuts the viral DNA, which stops it from replicating.
How Can This Tool Be Used in Practice?
So now that we know what CRISPR/Cas is, we can look at how it can be used. Because Cas cuts DNA and CRISPR tells it where to go, scientists can use this system to target a specific area of a known gene sequence, cut it, and add in parts of DNA wherever they want. This process compared to other methods that have been used in the past is faster, cheaper, and more accurate. As a result, there are a great number of applications for CRISPR/Cas:
- “Knock-Out” Creation — Developing specific traits in test animals much more efficiently which would reduce the number of test animals needed and the amount of time required
- Gene Repression and Activation — Turning on and off targeted genes
- Gene Modification/Repair — Changing or fixing gene sequences
- Genome-Wide Screening — Identifying and screening for specific mutations or diseases
What Does This Mean for the Future?
If all goes well and this method can be perfected, there is a great potential for life-changing new advancements. Crops could be modified much more easily and effectively for larger yields and better resistance to environmental hazards, genetic diseases could be identified and excised before they can propagate and do harm, and genes could be forced on or off as needed to produce desired effects. In addition, CRISPR also has the potential to accelerate advances in the field of gene therapy and to spark further controversy over the long-standing issue of eugenics.
With all of the advances in biotechnology, personalized medicine, and genetic mapping/manipulation, CRISPR is something for everyone to keep an eye on in 2016.
Where to Learn More
To access in-depth information about CRISPR/Cas, check out the following research reports:
- Global CRISPR Market by Occams Business Research & Consultancy includes historical data, revenue forecasts, industry analysis, and key geographic growth data. In addition, this report profiles sixteen different companies including Thermo Fisher Scientific, Editas Medicine, GenScript, and more.
- Genome Editing / Genome Engineering by MarketsandMarkets covers CRISPR in addition to TALEN, ZNF, antisense technology, and others. It provides insights on product development, competitive assessment, and market development and diversification.
To see additional reports on CRISPR/Cas, go to our website.
Senior Research Specialist