8 June 2016
Researchers have identified a protein that can be used by CRISPR to allow the editing of RNA, opening a path to gene editing with greater specificity and broader functionality.
The discovery and use of the CRISPR system for purposeful DNA editing has been one of the great scientific advances of the last couple of years. Now, a new CRISPR-associated protein has been identified that allows researchers to edit RNA. As RNA is responsible for carrying out the instructions coded by our genes the discovery has a number of potential applications.
A team led by Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute, studied the CRISPR associated protein known as C2c2, found in a class II, type IV CRISPR system. Using the protein, the team were able to target a specific transcript, lowering the expression of the corresponding protein.
The range of potential applications could include triggering ‘dormancy in specific cells such as cancer cells' or ‘adding modules to specific RNA sequences to alter the function’ of the proteins they encode, enabling them to be used as testing screens, or ‘synthetic regulatory networks’. The C2c2 protein is particularly adaptable, as it requires only a single guide RNA to function, and can be encoded in DNA, facilitating easy delivery.
The paper concludes that it is likely that there are other analogous CRISPR systems that can affect RNA out there, and further study could help understand how RNA affects disease and cellular function.