CRISPR gene editing has been around for a decade, but it continues to be revolutionary. Just recently, researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have found a way to edit multiple genes at once while altering the expression of others. This combo approach is the newest superpower in the continuing advances of genome editing.
What Is CRISPR Gene Editing?
To understand why the combo approach is so impressive, you need to get a sense of how gene editing works. CRISPR-Cas9 technology has its roots in nature. Bacteria can protect themselves against viral infections through a natural gene editing process. They copy segments of the virus’s DNA code and use it to target these invaders in the future.
CRISPR uses that same approach to find segments of DNA code and snip them. This allows scientists to change the code as a potential treatment for everything from cancer to pest infestations of crops. Moreover, these treatments offer a more permanent solution to the problem because they target it at the source – DNA.
What Is a CRISPR Combo?
The latest CRISPR technology takes a two-fold approach to gene editing: cutting DNA to alter it and gene regulation, which means turning gene expression on or off. The study out of Maryland combines these two benefits into one impressive gene editing tool aptly named CRISPR-Combo.
In traditional gene editing, the tool either edits the DNA sequence or the gene regulation. The UMD researchers look to do both things with just one device, using plants as their test subjects.
The CRISPR-Combo Tests
The initial CRISPR-Combo experiments involved tomato and rice plants. They found they could do both forms of gene editing without crossover. In other words, the researchers were able to edit one gene and activate another successfully and singularly. However, the regulated gene showed no signs of sequential editing, and the edited gene was not regulated.
They advanced their study using a rockcress plant. During this phase, they were able to edit a gene in the place that made it resistant to herbicides while activating a gene that allows the same plant to flower early. The results were a plant resistant to the existing herbicides but able to reproduce faster.
The UMD scientists were also able to improve the efficiency of new plant varieties using tissue cultivation. The test had them edit the necessary genes and activate others to stimulate tissue regeneration. They were able to grow rice plants using CRISPR gene editing in cultures without the need for growth hormone supplements.
The Possibilities of CRISPR-Combo Technology
There are potentially broad benefits from both editing and regulating genes with one tool. This technology can improve the ways plants grow, for example, opening up new avenues for food production. As a result, food may be able to grow in terrains previously unheard of and be more nutritious at the same time.
According to Yiping Qi, a co-author of the study, it has limitless possibilities. The ultimate goal is to create more efficient ways of conducting gene editing. The more sophisticated and effective this CRISPR technology is, the more uses it will have in medicine and food production.