Researchers Discover 'Stop' Button for CRISPR

The gene-editing tool is powerful, and an antidote can help make it safer.

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Dec 29 2016, 5:00pm

DNA lab. Image: University of Michigan/Flickr

Researchers have discovered a method that could block the effects of a powerful gene-editing tool to protect genes that scientists don't want accidentally altered in the alteration process.

UC San Francisco researchers found a way to turn off the effects of the CRISPR/Cas 9 gene editing system. While CRISPR is thought to have great potential to alter crops, viruses and even human cells, it also sometimes alters cells the researchers didn't want changed, which causes unintended side-effects.

But some anti-CRISPR proteins may be able to protect non-target cells from the effects of the gene editing process, a paper published in Cell today stated.

"Researchers and the public are reasonably concerned about CRISPR being so powerful that it potentially gets put to dangerous uses," Bondy-Denomy said. "These inhibitors provide a mechanism to block nefarious or out-of-control CRISPR applications, making it safer to explore all the ways this technology can be used to help people."

Read More: What is CRISPR and Why Is it Suddenly Everywhere?

The anti-CRISPR system works by using proteins left behind from the natural gene-editing system, much like the tactic viruses use to battle bacteria in the body. The UC San Francisco team looked at strains of Listeria and evaluated its proteins to find the right protein that could block CRISPR.

After all, when dealing with a powerful tool, it's helpful to have a "stop" button.