What is ECRISPR? Scientists herald discovery of new use for gene-editing tool

11 Nov 2019447 Views

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A new discovery has shown CRISPR could be a powerful biosensing medical device as well as a gene-editing tool.

While its use and potential as a gene-editing tool remains controversial following some high-profile experiments, CRISPR still remains at the forefront of conversations around genetics. Now, researchers from Case Western Reserve University have reported a whole new purpose for CRISPR that could have major implications for healthcare.

Writing in Angewandte Chemie, the authors wrote about using it as a ‘universal biosensing’ point-of-care medical device – similar to existing blood-glucose sensors – for the accurate and rapid detecting of viruses such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or parvovirus (parvo).

This was achieved by converting the CRISPR ‘recognition induced enzymatic signal’ into an electrical signal used to detect biomarkers for the virus.

Lead author of the paper, Yifan Dai, has coined the new technique ECRISPR, which adds ‘electrochemical platform’ to the original CRISPR acronym, which stands for ‘clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’.

‘No virus, no cutting’

Similar to how CRISPR is a specialised protein designed to cut out harmful mutations within DNA, ECRISPR relies on the same precision to identify and quantify viruses in the blood.

“The CRISPR technique works so that it cuts all of the non-specified single-strand DNA around it once the target is recognised, so we program to electrochemically probe this activity,” Dai said.

“No virus, no cutting; it’s that simple. And the opposite is true. If CRISPR starts to cut, we know the virus is present.”

This latest discovery follows another breakthrough with a new CRISPR technique that promises to be significantly less error prone than previous versions.

According to Wired, this new technique is being referred to as ‘prime editing’ and, for the first time, can make alterations to genetic code without severing DNA’s double helix. It is estimated that this new technique could correct approximately 89pc of mutations that cause heritable human diseases.

Colm Gorey is a senior journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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