New Study Reveals That Precise Gene Editing with CRISPR is Astonishingly Simple

Friday, 14 December 2018 - 1:04PM
Technology
Genetic Engineering
Friday, 14 December 2018 - 1:04PM
New Study Reveals That Precise Gene Editing with CRISPR is Astonishingly Simple
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Amidst the controversy surrounding He Jiankui and his use of CRISPR to edit the genes of a pair of twins, a team of scientists have announced that they may have unlocked the secret to more precise gene editing with CRISPR, potentially unlocking a new chapter in the field of genetic engineering.

One of the main reasons scientists and nations across the globe reacted in outrage to He's announcement that he had created the world's first genetically altered twins was due to the fact that the technique he used, CRISPR Cas9, is still in its infancy. Because scientists still have a difficult time predicting the repercussions of changing parts of a person's genes, the argument goes, gene editing in living humans could end up saddling them with unforeseen medical complications, or creating a domino effect that could cripple their bodies.

However, according to Paola Scaffidi, the leader of a group of scientists based at the Francis Crick Institute, that unpredictability may no longer be a major obstacle. "The effects of CRISPR were thought to be unpredictable and seemingly random, but by analysing hundreds of edits we were shocked to find that there are actually simple, predictable patterns behind it all," Scaffidi said in a statement. "This will fundamentally change the way we use CRISPR, allowing us to study gene function with greater precision and significantly accelerating our science."

The major takeaway from their discovery is that the precision of the "edit" is primarily determined by the relation of the snipped part of the DNA to the nearby acid in the chain—snips that take place a certain distance from adenine or thymine (an 'A' or 'T' in the language of DNA) will be relatively precise, while those within a certain distance of guanine will contain more errors.

According to Dr. Anob Chakrabarti, another scientist involved in the research: "We were amazed to discover that the rules that determine the outcome of CRISPR human genome editing are so simple. By bearing these rules in mind when designing our guide RNAs, we can maximise the chances of getting the desired outcome of a specific gene edit-which is particularly important in a clinical context."
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