A powerful scientific tool for editing the DNA instructions in a genome can now also be applied to RNA, the molecule that translates DNA’s genetic instructions into the production of proteins. A team of researchers with Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley has demonstrated a means by which the CRISPR/Cas9 protein complex can be programmed to recognize and cleave RNA at sequence-specific target sites. This finding has the potential to transform the study of RNA function by paving the way for direct RNA transcript detection, analysis, and manipulation. Led by Dr. Jennifer Doudna (photo), biochemist and a leading authority on the CRISPR/Cas9 complex, the Berkeley team showed how the Cas9 enzyme can work with short DNA sequences known as “PAM,” for protospacer adjacent motif, to identify and bind with specific sites of single-stranded RNA (ssRNA). The team is designating this RNA-targeting CRISPR/Cas9 complex as RCas9. “Using specially designed PAM-presenting oligonucleotides, or PAMmers, RCas9 can be specifically directed to bind or cut RNA targets while avoiding corresponding DNA sequences, or it can be used to isolate specific endogenous messenger RNA from cells,” says Dr. Doudna, who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Chemistry, and is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
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