People who are somewhat familiar with CRISPR, whose name derives from Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and was first reported in the science journal Nature in 2012 by scientists Sam Sternberg and Jennifer Doudna may recall that it has been used in research facilities with Cas9 proteins.
It’s worth remembering because using Cas9 proteins in CRISPR gene editing allows scientists to cut out sections of genes, change one sequence of DNA for another, or instead seek to find and activate a specific gene in a person.
However, in all CRISPR editing scenarios, the scientists are cutting the DNA, and often this is done in a fashion where more is cut than the researchers want or intend. CRISPR-Cas9 is not known for precision, and sometimes the DNA doesn’t break apart neatly, just where technicians are hoping.
But there is always hope for a more precise tool on the horizon for CIRSPR gene editing. Now, a new approach is undergoing testing, using CRISPR technology to counter viruses, but without having to make any cuts to the viral genetic sequences.
New Study Using CRISPR Cas12c.
At the University of California, the aforementioned Dr. Jennifer Doudna is once again reporting on innovative research involving CRISPR. She is leading a team at UC Berkeley that is focused on Cas12c.
Doudna reports in a recent issue of Molecular Cell that they can use Cas12c to bind onto viruses that have invaded the body. It keeps cells safe from the virus without having to make any cuts to the DNA of the virus. This means they are creating an antiviral method that doesn’t make the cell have to work hard to fend off a virus, but it keeps the virus from doing any damage, as noted by SingularityHub.
How the CRISPR Cas12c Tool Could Work as an Antiviral
Scientists think that Cas12c has potential to work as an antiviral agent, at least in tests using it in bacteria cells. Cas12 is a family of proteins that show promise in genetic engineering. Many of the Cas12 members are simple and small, encouraging researchers to investigate them as potential in developing therapies.
CRISPR-Cas12 has become known worldwide as scientists began harnessing it to hone in on SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic causing millions of illnesses and fatalities. Approximately 300,000 CRISPR-Cas12 combinations have the theoretical possibility to become useful tools in snipping segments of DNA. But one of them, Cas12c does not seem to have any cutting ability. Instead, it has a potential role to play in CRISPR gene editing because it is a much better “bloodhound” to find target RNA in a cell.
Then, the guided CRISPR-Cas12c tool would prevent a virus from replicating. It does this not by cutting crucial genetic instructions, but by disabling the genes that the virus needs to reproduce itself inside the body.
An Improvement on Previous Non-Cutting Cas Enzymes
Scientists have had previous experience in using CRISPR to disable targeted genes instead of cutting them. They have mutated Cas9 and Cas12a to make nonviable versions of the sequences so they will bind with DNA but not be able to cut it. In this instance, the Cas12a can target either strand of DNA, unlike other mutated enzymes that are only capable of cutting one.
So this new approach with Cas12c gives scientists more ability to target and disable viral genes. It’s certainly an exciting prospect for the future of antiviral technology. With the world still reeling from the global COVID-19 pandemic, having a new and more powerful tool to defend against viruses couldn’t come any time sooner.