Potential new gene editing tools uncovered

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The discovery of the CRISPR-Cas systems, a breakthrough in gene editing that won the 2020 Nobel Prize, has generated a lot of buzz. The systems that naturally occur inbacteria can only make small changes to genes. Scientists have discovered a different system inbacteria that could lead to even more powerful methods for gene editing, given its ability to insert genes or whole sections of DNA in a genome.

A new research from The University of Texas at Austin dramatically expands the number of naturally occurring versions of this system, giving researchers a wealth of potential new tools for large-scale gene editing.

Other scientists had identified clusters of genes that use CRISPR to insert themselves into different places in an organisms genome. They can be used to add an entire gene or large DNA sequence to the genome.

The team led by Ilya Finkelstein and Claus Wilke at UT Austin have increased the number of likely CASTs from about a dozen to nearly 1,500. The results were published in the journal.

"With CASTs, we could potentially insert lots of genes, called 'gene cassettes', which are multi-functional," said Finkelstein, who conceived and headed the research. This opens up the possibility of treating diseases with more than one gene.

According to Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, the CASTs will be a critical element in expanding genetic engineers' toolkit, making it possible to introduce any change, at any genetic location, in any organisms within the decade.

The team combed through the world's largest database of genome fragments from microbes that have not yet been cultured in the lab.

The data-engineering part of the project would have been impossible without the resources of TACC.

It would take years if the search was done on a powerful computer. The final analysis was completed within a few weeks with one of the university's supercomputers. James, Kuang, andAlexis worked full time on the project for nearly two years.

Finkelstein said that the term for this was bioprospecting. It was like sifting through a lot of junk to find gold.

The UT Austin team found 1,476 new CASTs, including three new families, doubling the number of known families. Several of these have already been verified and they plan to do more testing. Finkelstein predicts that most will be true CASTs.

It's unlikely that you have the best ones if you only have a few. We can find out which ones are easiest to work with by having more than a thousand. Hopefully there are new systems that can do things better.

In the short term, Finkelstein said that many of the new systems should be able to adapt to genetically engineeredbacteria. Finkelstein said the long-term challenge was to domesticate the systems to work in our cells.

Finkelstein said that the holy grail is to get this working in cells.

James R. Rybarski and his team discovered the genes associated with the CRISPR-associated transposons. There is a book called "pnas.2112279118."

The National Academy of Sciences has a journal.

There are potential new gene editing tools that were uncovered on December 3, 2021.

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