CRISPR, the technique that allows the ‘cut and paste’ of DNA


The tool known as CRISPR-Cas9, commonly known as genetic cut and paste was the technique by which Emmanuelle Charpentier (French) and Jennifer Doudna (American) received in 2015 the Princess of Asturias Award for Research and that the Magazine Science raises the number one of the list of the scientific discoveries of the year. Not for less, this technique is liked by everyone for its plasticity, ease of use and low cost. Thanks to this procedure we are now closer to curing diseases for which there are no therapies or even to prevent them in an individual. There are already ethical misgivings because this involves acting on the embryo, to modify their DNA. But its application is not limited to health but will also have an impact on consumption and food production.

CRISPR-Cas9 is inspired by the defensive system of some bacteria against the attack of other pathogens. These have enzymes that differentiate between the genetic material of the bacterium and the virus and destroy the latter. Thus, the technique that now highlights Science has transformed the natural machinery of these bacteria into a programmable tool that can cut any segment of DNA and replace it. It usually looks for a piece with a mutation that disrupts the functioning of a gene which ends up producing a disease. Through the cut and paste, this tool, as a word processor, it looks for the error and corrects it.

With the use of this technique, we can now see news about various scientific advances:

Recently Chinese researchers test for the first time in humans the technique of genetic “cut and paste”

A group led by oncologist Lu You of Sichuan University introduced cells modified with this method to a patient with aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial developed. The researchers first removed immune cells (T lymphocytes) from the recipient’s blood, and then desactivated in them with the new technique, a gene that combines an enzyme that cuts DNA together with a molecular guide indicating where to section.

Coinciding with this advance, another team led by the Spanish Juan Carlos Izpisúa-Belmonte, from the Laboratory of Genetic Expression of the Salk Institute (La Jolla, California), also presented a new technique of gene editing with which they have been able to partially correct Vision in blind mice. Scientists have been able to enter for the first time a specific location of non-dividing adult cells – alone able to regenerate tissues or organs – and modify damaged DNA.