Harnessing CRISPR to stop viruses

News briefs

Published: January, 2020

A research team from Harvard reports that it has harnessed the powerful gene editing tool called CRISPR to recognize and kill viruses. The findings were published online Oct. 2, 2019, by Molecular Cell. CRISPR can alter strands of both DNA and RNA (a molecule related to DNA), which are built like strings of beads. Each bead consists of one of four chemicals called bases. CRISPR can recognize a specific sequence of bases (such as one that is characteristic of a particular virus), latch on to that sequence and cut it, and change the sequence to a different one. This can scramble the genetic sequence of a virus in such a way that the virus no longer can make copies of itself. The Harvard team used this technique to kill several viruses that are made of RNA — including influenza virus — in a laboratory dish. The next step will be to see if the CRISPR technique can also be used to kill viruses in a living animal. That will be much harder. However, if it works, the technique might someday help humans fight viral infections.

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