The CRISPR revolution takes a mind-blowing step: We've just discovered how to use this technique to insert pieces of DNA into the genome.
A team from Columbia University has just published in Nature that it is able to integrate a piece of DNA into a cell's genome with precision never seen before. If confirmed, we are not only facing a new approach in the world of generic engineering, we are facing a substantial advance that puts in the hands of scientists tools that change the playing field.
From "scalpel" to "molecular glue"
The limitations of CRISPR In recent years we have not stopped talking about CRISPR, the so-called "molecular scalpel". And, indeed, CRIPSR-Cas9 is capable of cutting DNA with an unprecedented precision, but that's only the beginning. After CRISPR, the genome repair mechanisms come to “resolve” the cut. If we imagine DNA as a huge text document, this tool would allow us to cut and separate paragraphs in the hope that the 'autocorrector' will solve errors in the form of interesting mutations.
The problem is that, as with the autocorrect, the repair tools are not exactly accurate. It is not only that they delete our edition or introduce errors, it is that they have no memory. That is, they do not coordinate with each other. This means that each time they encounter a cut they repair it in a different way. Therefore, the results of our genetic interventions are usually mosaic beings (with numerous cells in which the cuts have been resolved differently).
A new approach Sternberg and his team were able to study cellular mechanisms similar to CRISPR to see if they found any that would allow us to solve that problem. This is how they hit the transposons (genetic elements that can move independently to different parts of the genome) of the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. Genetic editing with transposons already existed, "the amazing thing is that a CRISPR system can fit there [in the transposon]," says biologist Javier Arcos.
A very interesting step. This transposon uses the associated CRISPR system and uses it to 'stick' to the genome. This is a substantial change because the new approach retains the precision of the CRIPSR-Cas9 tools, but (at least based on the data in their work) blocks the source of error derived from genome repair mechanisms. It is, if memory serves me right, the first fully programmable genetic insertion system that we have discovered and studied in detail.
Where does this lead us? If, as with CRISPR, INTEGRATE works the same way in mammalian cells (something they are currently testing), the new approach opens up numerous opportunities for genetic research and clinical practice. But, even if not, we are really facing the confirmation that CRISPR was not alone. There, in the one billion types of bacteria that exist, there is a heritage full of possibilities. A heritage that has only just begun to change the world.