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Lab Reports
February 7, 2017

Scientists Discover Off Switch for Genome Editing Technique

JAMA. 2017;317(5):465. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.20535

New research addresses a major concern of the genome editing CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)–Cas9 technology: how to turn it off so that it does not have unwanted effects in off-target tissues. The ability to inhibit the function of Cas9, a nuclease that can be programmed with a guide RNA molecule to cut virtually any DNA sequence, is also important for halting any unpredicted consequences within cells or tissues.

In nature, bacteria use CRISPR-Cas complexes to cut up genetic material from invading viruses, and viruses have counterattacked by developing proteins that bind to bacterial CRISPR-Cas systems to nullify their effects. In work reported in Cell, researchers from the University of Toronto and their colleagues discovered 3 distinct families of viral proteins that specifically bind to and inhibit the CRISPR-Cas9 system of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis.