Researchers Discover New Type of CRISPR Gene Scissors

Like humans, bacteria and archaea can be attacked by viruses. These microorganisms have developed their own immune defense strategies against their pathogens. Bacterial defenses, such as CRISPR-Cas systems, have diverse proteins and functions that help bacteria protect themselves against foreign invaders. The defense is based on a common mechanism: a CRISPR ribonucleic acid (crRNA), serving as a "guide RNA," helps detect regions of a foreign genome, such as the DNA of a virus, for targeted cleavage. The CRISPR-associated (Cas) nuclease directed by a crRNA can cut its target like a pair of scissors: a strategy of nature that humans have harnessed in many technologies. "Considering how well different nucleases have been translated into new and improved technologies, any discovery in this field could bring new benefits to society," says Chase Beisel, PhD, describing a research motivation of his laboratory at the Würzburg Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI). The institute is a site of the Braunschweig Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in cooperation with the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) in Würzburg. Dr. Beisel initiated the current study on a specific set of CRISPR-Cas systems with Matthew Begemann,PhD, at Benson Hill, Inc. (Missouri) and Ryan Jackson, PhD, at Utah State University in the U.S. The results were published on January 4, 2023, in Nature and were accompanied by detailed structural analysis from a second team, also led by Ryan Jackson, and by David Taylor at University of Texas. The open-access article is titled “Cas12a2 Elicits Abortive Infection Through RNA-Triggered Destruction of dsDNA.”

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