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Published: 2016-04-29

CRISPR enzyme scissors cutting both DNA and RNA

NEWS Discoveries on the CRISPR-Cpf1 enzyme are expected to open up for new opportunities to edit genes. This according to researchers at MIMS at Umeå University among others in a study published in the journal Nature.

Text: Mattias Grundström Mitz

The research at Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, Germany, and Umeå University, has resulted in the discovery of a function in the CRISPR enzyme Cpf1, which has previously not been shown in this family of enzymes.

The group leader, Emmanuelle Charpentier and her team, has been able to show that CRISPR-Cpf1 has the ability to cut both RNA and DNA molecules. Unlike the CRISPR-Cas9 enzyme, which has previously been given huge attention for its gene-editing abilities, Cpf1 can be used to cut in what is called pre-crRNA, which thereafter can be used to target sequences and cut DNA.

The mechanism used by the Cpf1 enzyme creates new possibilities for specific editing of genes and most importantly facilitates the ability to target multiple sites at once, so-called multiplexing.

Since Emmanuelle Charpentier and her research team made her discovery of the gene-editing ability in CRISPR-Cas9, the technology has taken laboratories by storm around the world. Researchers can now show that certain bacteria use structurally more simple defence mechanisms than CRISPR-Cas9 for cleaving foreign DNA. What distinguishes the Cpf1 enzyme is that additional enzymes such as RNase III is not needed for this process. Cpf1 does not need tracrRNA to find its target sequence of the DNA molecule either.

“CRISPR-Cpf1 is a plug-and-play system with no additional components needed, unlike CRISPR-Cas9. If the CRISPR-Cpf1 system provides any tangible added value over the CRISPR-Cas9 system when it comes to eukaryotic gene editing remains to be elucidated However, it is stunning to see how evolution has succeeded in yielding a dramatically minimalistic but effective immune system to fight invading viruses,” says Emmanuelle Charpentier.

“There may be more such systems to be found in nature in the future. The search for them is already in full swing,” concludes Emmanuelle Charpentier.

Read the article in Nature

Read a popular science description at MIMS, Umeå University

For more information, please contact:

Emmanuelle CharpentierProfessor and director, Department of Regulation in Infection Biology Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, GermanyPhone: +49 30 28460-410
Email: pr-charpentier@mpiib-berlin.mpg.de

Visiting professor, Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) and Umeå Centre for Microbial Research (UCMR) at the Department of Molecular Biology,Umeå University, Sweden

Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Braunschweig, Germany

About the article in Nature:

The CRISPR-associated DNA-cleaving enzyme Cpf1 also processes precursor CRISPR RNAInes Fonfara, Hagen Richter, Majda Bratovic, Anaïs Le Rhun & Emmanuelle Charpentier
Nature 17945, 20 April 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nature17945.

Caption: Emmanuelle Charpentier. Credit: Hallbauer & Fioretti, Braunchweig

Editor: Anna Lawrence