Until recently, genomics was a “read-only” science. But scientists, led by Dr. Rory Johnson at the University of Bern and the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain, have now developed a tool for quick and easy deletion of DNA in living cells. This software will boost efforts to understand the vast regions of non-coding DNA, or “Dark Matter,” in our DNA and may lead to discovery of new disease-causing genes and potential new drugs. Genomics is the field of research studying how our genome, or entire DNA sequence, specifies a human being, and how errors in this sequence give rise to diseases. Genomics was recently a “read-only” endeavor: researchers used powerful technology to read genome sequences and their regulatory layers. However, until recently, there was no way to edit or delete DNA for either basic research objectives, or for potential therapeutic interventions. Just a few years ago, this outlook changed dramatically with the discovery of a revolutionary technique for editing genomes: “CRISPR-Cas9.” CRISPR-Cas9 is a molecular tool composed of two simple components: a molecular barcode, called “sgRNA,” which is designed by the researcher to recognize one precise location in the genome; and a protein, Cas9, that binds to a structured loop in the sgRNA. By introducing these two units, researchers may perform a wide range of operations on specific pieces of genomic DNA, from introducing small mutations, to regulating gene activity, to tagging the DNA with small sequences. Until recently, most studies employing CRISPR-Cas9 were aimed at silencing protein-coding genes, the best-studied part of our genome. However, 99% of our genome consists of DNA that does not encode any protein.
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