Have you heard of the new genetic engineering tool that's the current rage in biotech labs--CRISPR? The headline in today's Science section of the British newspaper The Independent, 'Jaw-dropping' breakthrough hailed as landmark in fight against hereditary diseases as Crispr technique heralds genetic revolution, may be a bit overblown. It does, however, sum up the excitement in much of the scientific community about this technology.
For example, the article quotes from Craig Mello describing CRISPR as, "better than RNA interference....a tremendous breakthrough with huge implications for molecular genetics...a real game-changer." Craig Mello, of course, along with Andrew Fire won the 2006 Nobel prize in Medicine for their discovery of RNA interference (RNAi). With a name practically synonymous with RNAi, Dr. Mello's enthusiasm about CRISPR is certainly notable, as are the reactions of several scientists mentioned in the article.
If you are not familiar with CRISPR, it is a system bacteria use to chop up DNA from invading viruses. While that may not seem so exciting unless you are a microbe, it turns out that the key components of CRISPR, a protein and a small specially configured DNA, can be taken out of the bacteria and used to genetically engineer almost any DNA in any organism.
CRISPR provides a precise and convenient tool to manipulate DNA. Research labs have been eagerly adopting the technology to make genetic modifications. However, it also has real potential for use in gene therapy.
To find out more about how CRISPR was discovered, how it works, and what it can be do, take a look at CRISPR: What's All the Excitement About?.