Researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Institutes of Health, Rutgers University- New Brunswick, and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Russia have characterized a new CRISPR system that targets RNA, rather than DNA. The new approach has the potential to open a powerful avenue in cellular manipulation. Whereas DNA editing makes permanent changes to the genome of a cell, the CRISPR-based RNA-targeting approach may allow researchers to make temporary changes that can be adjusted up or down, and with greater specificity and functionality than existing methods for RNA interference. In a study published online on June 2, 2016 in Science, Feng Zhang, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Broad Institute and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, along with co-authors Eugene Koonin, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the NIH, and Konstantin Severinov, Ph.D., of Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Skoltech, report the identification and functional characterization of C2c2, an RNA-guided enzyme capable of targeting and degrading RNA. The article is titled “C2c2 Is a Single-Component Programmable RNA-Guided RNA-Targeting CRISPR Effector.” The findings reveal that C2c2--the first naturally-occurring CRISPR system that targets only RNA to have been identified, discovered by this collaborative group in October 2015--helps protect bacteria against viral infection. They demonstrate that C2c2 can be programmed to cleave particular RNA sequences in bacterial cells, which would make it an important addition to the molecular biology toolbox. The RNA-focused action of C2c2 complements the CRISPR-Cas9 system, which targets DNA, the genomic blueprint for cellular identity and function.
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