Keeping the genetic code

IMAGE: A Wyss Institute team devised a CRISPR/Cas9-based mutation prevention system that is capable of discriminating a single nucleotide variation (indicated here in green) in the DNA code (in blue) to… view more 

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Credit: iStock/Meletios Verras

(BOSTON) — Many life-threatening diseases are caused or exacerbated by a mere change of a single nucleotide building block in the universal genetic DNA code. Such “point mutations” can turn a single cell in the human body into a cancerous cell that goes on to grow into a tumor, or they can turn antibiotic-sensitive into antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause untreatable infections. In an ideal world, clinicians would be able to remove cells with such deleterious point mutations right after they are created to fight diseases much more effectively.

A research team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering reports now in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that it has accomplished the first step toward this goal by converting the CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering system into a genome surveillance tool. The researchers, led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty members George Church and James Collins, developed an in vivo mutation prevention method that enables the DNA-cleaving Cas9 enzyme to discriminate between genomic target sites differing


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