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What was CRISPR before humans ‘discovered’ it for use in gene editing?

| | February 1, 2018

[T]here is a less sequins-and-glitter side to CRISPR that’s just as alluring to anyone thirsty to understand the natural world. The biology behind CRISPR technology comes from a battle that has been raging for eons, out of sight and yet all around us (and on us, and in us).

The CRISPR editing tool has its origins in microbes — bacteria and archaea that live in obscene numbers everywhere from undersea vents to the snot in the human nose.

The process works like this: A virus injects its genetic material into the cell. Sensing this danger, the cell selects a little strip of that genetic material and adds it to the spacers in the CRISPR cluster. This step, known as immunization or adaptation, creates a list of encounters a cell has had with viruses, plasmids or other foreign bits of DNA over time — neatly lined up in reverse chronological order, newest to oldest.

Just as people can develop autoimmune reactions against their own bodies, bacteria and archaea can accidentally make CRISPR spacers from bits of their own DNA — and risk chewing up their own genetic material. Researchers have seen this happen.

What do microbes pay attention to? What do they ignore? CRISPRs offer a bright new window on such questions and, indeed, already are unearthing novel phages and facts about who infects whom in the microscopic world.

Read full, original post: CRISPR had a life before it became a gene-editing tool

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