CRISPR: Its Origins, Function and Future
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What started as simply an observation of a confusing set of tandem palindromic repeats in bacterial genomes grew into the discovery and harnessing of the CRISPR-Cas9 mechanism of gene editing. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) are a naturally occurring adaptive immune system present in microbes. They direct foreign DNA cleavage by storing DNA sequences from the foreign invaders and then using those sequences in a protein effector complex to bring about double stranded breaks. They are mainly used against bacteriophages. Once this mechanism was discovered and studied in its various forms, it was found that the Cas9 complex could be used in other organisms and could be engineered to target specific DNA sequences. This opened the floodgates for research into the gene editing properties of CRISPR-Cas9 and its application to therapeutic genetics as well as drug research. The perfection of the technology brought along with it a long running patent battle between two labs for the rights to the technology as well as a constant emergence of new research showing the benefits, possibilities and problems CRISPR-based editing brings to light.