Single-molecule movie of DNA search and cleavage by CRISPR-Cas9. pic.twitter.com/3NQxmbvzJF— hnisimasu (@hnisimasu) November 10, 2017
CRISPR is a gene-editing technique that has been the subject of much debate and diverse experimentation since first being used in 2012. A group of scientists from Kanazawa University and University of Tokyo in Japan have now created the first real-time, molecule-scale footage of CRISPR altering a strand of DNA.
CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) has two components; an enzyme called Cas9 that acts as a genetic scalpel and an RNA guide or homing device that leads the scalpel component to the correct string of nucleotides. With these two parts, CRISPR can be used by humans to locate and change specific genes. The range of applications for this technology are both amazing and controversial, due to concerns about still-evolving regulations and possible misintended consequences of its adoption – it can be used for everything from fighting disease or creating allergy-free foods to directly editing human embryos.
To capture Cas9’s motion, “A tiny needle moves back and forth, rendering details about the enzyme’s shape, moving so quickly that it produces a moving image,” Kristen V. Brown of Gizmodo explains. Through this process, known as high-speed atomic-force microscopy, the scientists take us on a brief and grainy but incredible journey into the realm of CRISPR at work.