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Longevity Briefs: Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded for The Development of CRISPR/Cas9

Posted on 7 October 2020

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of a novel research, medicine, or technology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: The revolutionary impact of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique cannot be overstated. Using these ‘genetic scissors’, researchers are now able to cut DNA at specific sites with extremely high precision, allowing existing sequences to be deleted and/or new sequences to be added. Crucially, this technique allows the genome to be edited in living organisms with relative ease and little expense.

What did the researchers do: Like many of science’s greatest breakthroughs, the story of CRISP/Cas9 began with a serendipitous discovery. During her studies of Streptococcus pyogenes, Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered a molecule called tracrRNA. Her work showed that this RNA was part of the ancient bacterial immune system, CRISPR/Cas, that attacks viruses by cutting their DNA.

In 2011 – the same year these findings were published – Charpentier collaborated with experienced biochemist and RNA expert Jennifer Doudna, and together they set about recreating and simplifying the CRISPR/Cas genetic scissors in the test tube. They then showed that these scissors could be controlled and directed to cut any DNA (not just viral DNA) at a predetermined site.

Johan Jarnestad
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Key takeaway(s) from this research: CRISPR/Cas9 has ushered in a new age for the life sciences. It has not only greatly facilitated research that once relied on challenging and time-consuming genetic engineering techniques, but has also opened up a host of new exciting opportunities that were previously impossible. CRISPR/Cas9 has enabled the development of crops that can survive pests, disease and extreme environments. It has allowed us to develop and trial new and promising cancer therapies. Thanks to this technique, we may even be on the cusp of curing inheritable diseases.

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