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The Swiss Army knife of gene editing gets new control

September 05, 2019 / Lori Dajose

When researchers want to edit, activate, or silence a gene in any living organism, from bacteria to humans, they often turn to CRISPR/Cas9, a complex of RNA and protein that can act like a genetic Swiss Army knife. Now, Caltech researchers have applied principles from the emerging field of dynamic RNA nanotechnology to exert logical control over CRISPR/Cas9 within living cells. By engineering RNA strands to interact and thereby change shape in response to an RNA trigger sequence, the group demonstrates the ability to switch CRISPR/Cas9 from on to off and from off to on. The work suggests a path to confine manipulation of a gene only to specific organs, tissues, or cell types within an organism. The work was done in the laboratory of Niles Pierce, professor of applied and computational mathematics and bioengineering, and is described in a paper published on June 4, 2019, in the journal ACS Central Science.