According to a study published in Cell, researchers have determined how to isolate and edit messenger RNA that carries genetic instructions from the cell’s nucleus to make new proteins for the first time using gene-editing tool Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, also known as CRISPR-Cas9.
They have previously used this tool to remove HIV from human immune cells and shut down HIV replication permanently, according to a study published in Nature in March.
“It opens up a new area of thinking about manipulating genes and disease,” Gene Yeo, associate professor of molecular medicine at UCSD and a senior author of the study, told Discovery. “In many diseases you cannot edit the genome, you can break the genome into pieces. But here we are doing transcription engineering or editing. That’s quite exciting.”
The gene-editing technique could lead to treatments for diseases that are linked to defective RNA and have previously been untreatable. These include certain cancers, fragile X syndrome and autism.
CRISPR-Cas9 can also potentially be used to edit genes that determine our physical features and maybe even our personality, leading to ethical questions about how to responsibly use the technology.
Discovery reports that the National Academy of Sciences is working on a set of ethical rules for this burgeoning field. USN
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