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UGA scientists 'hijack' bacterial immune system
Date:1/5/2012

Athens, Ga. The knowledge that bacteria possess adaptable immune systems that protect them from individual viruses and other foreign invaders is relatively new to science, and researchers across the globe are working to learn how these systems function and to apply that knowledge in industry and medicine.

Now, a team of University of Georgia researchers has discovered how to harness this bacterial immune system to selectively target and silence genes. The finding, published today in the early online edition of the journal Molecular Cell, reveals a powerful new tool that has far-reaching implications for biotechnology and biomedical research.

"Scientists study bacteria and other microorganisms to understand essential life processes as well as to improve their use in the safe production of foods, biofuels and pharmaceuticals, and to fight those that cause disease," said Michael Terns, a professor in the departments of biochemistry and molecular biology, and genetics in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "And now we have a new way to engineer bacteria to decrease or even eliminate the expression of the genes of our choosing."

The bacterial immune system consists of two components. The first is an RNA (a molecule that, like DNA, contains genetic information) that acts as a homing signal to target a virus or another cellular invader. The second component is a complex of proteins that cleaves the invader's genetic material. In a 2009 paper published in the journal Cell, Terns, co-principal investigator Becky Terns and their colleagues were the first to describe how this pathway, known as the Cmr branch of the CRISPR-Cas immune system, works.

In their latest study, the researchers further their understanding of the system and use that in-depth knowledge to essentially hijack the bacterial immune system to direct its homing system to a target of their choosing. Using customized CRISPR RNAs with a modified homing
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Contact: Becky Terns
rterns@bmb.uga.edu
706-542-1703
University of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert

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