New CRISPR tools can cut, splice whole chromosomes
Experts are saying it's a "huge step forward for synthetic biology."
- Until recently, the gene-editing tool CRISPR has only been able to make changes within single genes.
- The new tools allow scientists to cut and splice larger chunks of genetic material.
- The findings will likely have major implications for a variety of research fields, and also allow researchers to create synthetic species that can produce molecules not made by natural organisms.
Since 2012, the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 has enabled scientists to target and modify DNA with remarkable precision. But one constraint of this technique has been that it's only able to make changes within single genes. Now, scientists have developed new tools that allow them to cut and splice large chunks of chromosomes, and to assemble new synthetic genomes from distinct strains.
The findings, published in a paper on August 30 in Science, likely have major implications for fields such as synthetic biology, computational biology, and biological computing, and could lead to better treatments for a wide array of diseases.
"This new paper is incredibly exciting and a huge step forward for synthetic biology," Anne Meyer, a synthetic biologist at the University of Rochester in New York who was not involved in the paper, told Science.
Unlike previous gene-editing tools, the new tools are able to make many precise cuts to long strands of DNA without leaving any scarring.
The researchers, as Robert F. Service wrote for Science, also altered "another well-known tool, an enzyme called lambda red recombinase, so it could glue the ends of the original chromosome—minus the removed portion—back together, as well as fuse the ends of the removed portion. Both circular strands of DNA are protected from endonucleases. The technique can create different circular chromosome pairs in other cells, and researchers can then swap chromosomes at will, eventually inserting whatever chunk they choose into the original genome."
"Now, I can make a series of changes in one segment and then another and combine them together. That's a big deal," Chang Liu, a synthetic biologist at the University of California, Irvine, told Science.
Why CRISPR Gene Editing Gives Its Creator Nightmares
The new tools will likely open the doors for scientists to explore many novel areas: create synthetic species that can produce molecules not made by natural organisms, write information into DNA for use as a storage device, and drive down the costs of medical research by making it easier to edit bacterial genomes on a larger scale.
However, using CRISPR to edit large sections of the human genome is unlikely to occur anytime soon, given the regulatory hurdles and ethical complications. After all, scientists aren't fully aware of the consequences of making small edits to DNA, much less larger cuts.
"We don't always fully understand the changes we're making," Alan Regenberg, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, told Science News. "Even if we do make the changes we want to make, there's still question about whether it will do what we want and not do things we don't want."
Young people could even end up less anxiety-ridden, thanks to newfound confidence
- The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
- Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
- Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
We must rethink the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental health.
- A new review found that withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants and antipsychotics can last for over a year.
- Side effects from SSRIs, SNRIs, and antipsychotics last longer than benzodiazepines like Valium or Prozac.
- The global antidepressant market is expected to reach $28.6 billion this year.
Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?