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Powerful tool for genetic engineering
Date:11/22/2013

This news release is available in German.

Viruses cannot only cause illnesses in humans, they also infect bacteria. Those protect themselves with a kind of 'immune system' which simply put consists of specific sequences in the genetic material of the bacteria and a suitable enzyme. It detects foreign DNA, which may originate from a virus, cuts it up and thus makes the invaders harmless. Scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig have now shown that the dual-RNA guided enzyme Cas9 which is involved in the process has developed independently in various strains of bacteria. This enhances the potential of exploiting the bacterial immune system for genome engineering.

Even though it has only been discovered in recent years the immune system with the cryptic name 'CRISPR-Cas' has been attracting attention of geneticists and biotechnologists as it is a promising tool for genetic engineering. CRISPR is short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats, whereas Cas simply stands for the CRISPR-associated protein. Throughout evolution, this molecule has developed independently in numerous strains of bacteria. This is now shown by Prof Emmanuelle Charpentier and her colleagues at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) who published their finding in the international open access journal Nucleic Acids Research.

The CRISPR-Cas-system is not only valuable for bacteria but also for working in the laboratory. It detects a specific sequence of letters in the genetic code and cuts the DNA at this point. Thus, scientists can either remove or add genes at the interface. By this, for instance, plants can be cultivated which are resistant against vermins or fungi. Existing technologies doing the same thing are of
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Contact: Dr. Jan Grabowski
jan.grabowski@helmholtz-hzi.de
49-531-618-11407
Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research
Source:Eurekalert  

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