By now you have heard about CRISPR/Cas9. This is the revolutionary new way to fix genes in most any living thing, including people. It has already transformed biological research and is poised to do the same in curing genetic disease.
And now you can see a part of the process actually happening in living color, in a direct observation of the enzyme Cas9 cutting a strand of DNA.
Single-molecule movie of DNA search and cleavage by CRISPR-Cas9. pic.twitter.com/3NQxmbvzJF
— hnisimasu (@hnisimasu) November 10, 2017
The yellow blob is Cas9, which gets the ball rolling on editing a gene, and the long strands of orange are the DNA. Here, Cas9 scans for the right spot on the DNA to make an incision, then around 30 seconds in makes the cut, creating “cleaved DNA.” The next step for a successful edit would be for the cell’s internal machinery, in the process of mending the cut, to replace the surrounding DNA, hopefully correcting a disease-causing genetic mutation.
Researcher Osamu Nureki “filmed” this action by moving a tiny needle back and forth across Cas9. This imaging process is called high‐speed atomic‐force microscopy.
What makes it especially satisfying as a scientist is to see the CRISPR/Cas9 system work its magic, with my own eyes. How processes like gene editing work are, for the most part, inferred indirectly from experiments. To actually see Cas9 do its job is a bit mind-blowing.
As a scientist, I find this video unbearably cool.
Dr. Barry Starr is a scientist in the Department of Genetics at Stanford University who runs the Stanford at The Tech program and the Understanding Genetics website with The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose CA. Before running the program, he worked as a research scientist in the biotechnology field.