An artist’s depiction of the CRISPR system in action.
Illustration by Stephen Dixon

Broad Institute research team unveils CRISPR method for targeting and cutting RNA

Feng Zhang and his team from the Broad Institute have published a new CRISPR-based method for editing RNA, a technique that could enable researchers to better explore the role of RNA in cells and diseases.

Zhang’s method deploys the enzyme C2c2, identified through systematically exploring different aspects of the bacterial immune system that CRISPR is derived form. “Nature has already invented all these really interesting mechanisms,” Zhang says, speaking to Scientific American. “We’re just trying to play with that and learn how they work…then turn them into tools that will be useful to us.”

So far C2c2 has only been applied in bacterial cells, but according to Zhang unpublished results suggest that the technique will also work in mammalian cells, opening up the possibility for therapeutic applications.

CRISPR continues to attract controversy in scientific circles and beyond because of its potential application to human gene editing. But applying edits to RNA may pose fewer ethical concerns because they would not impact upon the underlying DNA. 

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