A Crisp Discovery To Further Strengthen Human Control Over Microbe Physiology
Microbioz India|June 2017

Human`s curiosity and the never ending hunger to mend his surroundings per his needs has done wonders, with extraordinary things now possible, things that would have been, in earlier times termed paranormal or magical.

 
Abhishek Gonga

From the discovery of living cell by Anton van Leeuwenhoek in 1670 to controlling the physiology of these minuscule organisms, we have come a long way. These microbes have provided us great insight into the biological realm and innumerable fields have emerged as a consequence.

Biotechnology, immunology, and microbiology are few disciplines which are at the forefront of scientific research on microbes. This article will introduce you to a recent discovery that has the promise of changing the way we deal with microbes in general and their genetic makeup in particular.

Francisco Mojica was the man whose mind was enthralled by observation of palindrome repeats along a certain stretch of microbial DNA, and his work on this unusual observation, along with those of others around the world finally provided humanity, a powerful tool for very precise targeted genome modification “THE CRISPR/CAS9 SYSTEM”.

In the microbial systems where it functions, it plays the role of microbial guardian protecting it from external atrocities say e.g. plasmids and viruses that tend to modify the native genome of the organism to its benefit. And interestingly its working resembles the way our acquired immune system works.

CRISPR stands for Clustered, Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and as the name suggests, these are palindrome repeats (read same when read in opposite direction e.g.-HANNAH, on anti parallel strands of DNA) on the length of microbe DNA.

Invader to these microbes have the ability to introduce their genetic material into cytoplasm and with help of group of complex enzymes (may be from the host or introduced along with foreign genetic material) and associated mechanisms integrate the same into microbe`s DNA, this altered DNA then functions erratically, in most cases to the benefit of invader. In other cases, the introduced material may not need to integrate itself into the host`s genome it can sustain independently, as is the case with plasmids.

What is special with CRISPR is that there are present sequences from previous encounters with foreign genetic material between these repeats called as spacers (protospacer in some references), which serve as memory cassettes to the cell.

The RNA synthesized from these sequences (CRISPRRNA) binds to a guided DNA endonuclease called cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9), the complex thus formed patrols the cytoplasm for any foreign DNA having complementary nucleotide length to those present in the CRISPR-cas9 system (CRISPR-RNA).If in case such a region is detected the complex binds to the same and the endonuclease cleaves the strand rendering the foreign material impotent

To the question as to how did bacterium get a spacer in its genome?

The answer is yet to be found but the possibility of such an event is extraordinarily low, it is seen that generally one in 10 million encounters will lead to successful integration and will help bacterium survive the attack, but given the rate of bacterial multiplication, it takes very less time for spacer to be integrated in bacterial gene pool and the chances of survival of the population are therefore raised above threshold.

Applications to date

The discovery of this unique system has created a buzz in the scientific world. There are many areas of economic and research oriented activities that can benefit directly from this. The industries employing microbes as their labor are at the best-suited position. Not only this, use of this system for developing techniques to fight against diseases and development of novel medicine help humanity get an edge in the fight against ever-evolving pathogenic races.

Some of the areas where this system has been successfully employed to get desirable results are briefly mentioned below.

Genome editing (see further knowledge for video link)

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