New CRISPR-Cas system cuts virus RNA

ENGINEERINGNET.BE – There are many viruses that only target bacteria. Therefore, over billions of years of evolution, bacteria have developed ingenious immune systems to defend against virus infection. CRISPR-Cas is such an immune system and has gained a lot of fame in 10 years.

Prof. dr. Stan Brouns: “New variants of CRISPR-Cas are constantly being discovered that can be used for important applications. For example, with CRISPR-Cas9 you can very precisely adjust the DNA of cells.”

“This unleashed a revolution in research into, for example, genetic disorders. CRISPR-Cas systems are also an interesting alternative to the PCR test for the detection of the Coronavirus. The CRISPR-Cas system that we have now discovered does not work on DNA, but on RNA, which offers other possibilities.”

PhD candidate Sam van Beljouw: “This CRISPR-Cas system has a number of biological properties that we have not seen before. For example, it consists of one large protein in which the function of more than five small CRISPR-Cas proteins has been combined.”

“This protein cuts RNA from an invading virus at two pre-programmed sites, destroying the RNA and giving the virus its first blow. Also, the protein is very similar to a protein normally involved in cell death in human cells. This may be possible.” mean that the bacterium initiates suicide when cutting the virus RNA is not sufficient for protection.”

“If the infected bacterium kills itself, it prevents the production of new virus particles. This protects the brothers and sisters of the attacked bacteria against infection. The bacterium is, as it were, sacrificing itself for the greater whole.”

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Although much research is still needed to unravel all the details, Brouns anticipates that their findings can be translated into useful applications. “We expect this new CRISPR protein to be useful as molecular precision scissors to cut RNA.”

“We also see possibilities for converting the CRISPR protein into a kind of switch with which we can activate medicines, for example, at times when it is really needed,” says Brouns.

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