CRISPR Used to Find Genes that Protect Cells from Zika
A CRISPR technique has been used to identify genes in cells that enable them to survive infection of the Zika Virus. It is hoped that this development will lead to future treatments for Zika.
Currently there is no vaccine or treatment specific to the Zika virus. If pregnant women contract the disease their unborn children may be born with severe neurological and physical abnormalities. The disease is a serious public health concern in South America.
In an attempt to find a cure for Zika, scientists screened cells to identify genes that make them resistant to infection. They used the relatively new technique of CRISPR activation, where the CRISPR/Cas-9 system inserts a promotor sequence before genes to ensure they are expressed.
Scientists used the CRISPR activation technique to activate every gene in the genome of the test cells. The cells were then infected with the Zika Virus, causing the majority of cells to die. The remaining cells were found to have survived by over-expressing certain genes that both protected the cells from the Zika infection and prevented cell death.
The gene IF16 was found to be one of the genes that substantially increased survival when expressed. IF16 has previously been found to increase cells survival when they are infected with other viruses. Even though the action of IF16 is not yet understood, the gene shows promise as a means to develop an effective anti-viral therapy for ZIKA.